Monday, June 16, 2008

Ellen Raskin

Ellen RaskinThe recent Kerlan Collection newsletter held some exciting news about one of my all-time favorites: One of the recent acquisitions for its huge and fascinating collection children's literature works is an unpublished manuscript by Ellen Raskin called Mouse, Witch, Shades of Gray, as well as Raskin's "Ideas Notebook."

I have no idea what those pieces contain, but I would love to see them.

Raskin is probably best known for her Newbery-winning juvenile novel The Westing Game. She also wrote The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues and Figgs & Phantoms, both well worth reading.

Illustration of Mrs. Carillon with Tina and Tony
My personal favorite among her books, though, is The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel). The book is just as bizarre as the title sounds, with an unexplainable plot and wild characters. It is enlivened by amazing illustrations that combine typography and imagery, and believe me, they tie closely to the plot, since Raskin did them herself.

Cover of A Wrinkle in TimeThis multiple set of talents is not surprising, if you look into it a bit -- Raskin was a successful designer and illustrator before she began publishing novels. She designed the original cover of A Wrinkle in Time (also a Newbery-winner) as well as the covers of over a hundred other books.

I had the good fortune to run across a copy of Leon/Noel at a used bookstore a number of years ago. I was excited enough just to see it sitting there in hardback with the original cover.

Ellen Raskin signature and sketch of Mrs. CarillonBut then I opened it up and saw that it was signed, and not just signed, but Raskin had done an impromptu sketch of the book's main character, Mrs. Carillon, as part of the signature.

Charlotte, for whom the book was signed, obviously had no idea how cool her book was. I think I paid maybe $5.00 for it.

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