When I was twelve my parents gave me for Christmas a small, slim paperback copy of A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.They gave it to me because of my interest in poetry, but even though at the time I didn't give any particular thought to block printing, I still loved the way Ellen Raskin's simple, stylized woodcuts complemented Thomas's beautiful, evocative poetry.I've never stopped loving either the poem or the illustrations.
Ellen Raskin designed the edition as well as making the wood block illustrations, in 1954.Yes, this is the same Ellen Raskin who would later become an acclaimed writer and eventually win the Newbery Medal for The Westing Game.She was a graphic artist and illustrator first.
What I find inspiring about the design of the New Directions edition of A Child's Christmas in Wales is its simplicity.Raskin's illustrations are so small some of them are hardly more than glorified dingbats, and they're sprinkled throughout the text instead of standing, full-page, in their own importance.They're not very detailed, they're rather rough… It might seem as if they would be at odds with the dense, smooth arcs of Thomas's soaring, polished phrases.Yet instead the woodcuts work beautifully together with the words to evoke scenes glimpsed through the quirky lens of memory, at once vague and sharp, dream-like and specific, personal and universal.
To all who celebrate Christmas, may yours be full of love and joy.
[Pictures: woodcuts by Ellen Raskin from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, New Directions, 1954, 1959.]