Friday, October 29, 2021

Em Emberley's psychedelic children's witch book illustrations

Ed Emberley (born 1931) is fairly well known among those of us in Generation X because his books made us laugh and helped us learn to draw when we were kids. Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Faces (1975), with its step-by-step instructions for every character a kid could possibly dream up, is one that I especially remember. But it was just one of many. He had a Big Green Drawing Book, A Big Red Drawing Book, Drawing Book of Animals, and many others, including a Drawing Book of Weirdos, with his interpretations of the classic Universal monsters on the cover.

Emberley has also illustrated books for others, and earlier this year I came across Suppose You Met a Witch, which he illustrated for author Ian Serraillier (1912-1994) in 1973. Emberley's intense, psychedelic illustrations steal the show in this short children's book. It's like Yellow Submarine meets Bonnie MacLean — yes, I know I still have to do the post about her — meets Peter Max. All within a disturbing fairy tale.

It's a fairly difficult book to come across, though I suspect that's more due to folks who have a copy not wanting to surrender it. In late 1973, The New York Times children's editors selected it as one of the best books of the year, calling Emberley's illustrations are “a tour de force ... [with] rhythms every bit as striking as those in the text.”

Kirkus also gave it a glowing review. Here's an excerpt:
"(Emberley's) flamboyant art nouveau swirls, the sweeping curls and marble-like sea-foamy flames are gracefully spectacular, and his green, gulping witch quite lives up to Serraillier's description of Grimble-grum as 'all willow-gnarled and whiskered head to toe.' Most important, his sensuous ostentation is totally in keeping with the dramatic transformations of the Grimm-based story and the compressed, onomotopoetic extravagance of Serraillier's musical verse."

I'll share a few more images from my copy below. But if you want to check out the entire book, you're in luck. The Haunted Closet blog posted beautiful scans of the whole thing in 2019. It would be wonderful to see a new edition of this published, so that more kids could have it on their shelves.

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