Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Art of Summer Reading: Robert McCloskey

I wonder if anyone else remembers the terrific "Henry Reed" series of chapter books, illustrated by Robert McCloskey.


I've mentioned to friends on several occasions how much I enjoyed these books as a kid but have yet to meet anyone else who read them. Yet they were tremendously popular at one time (maybe a bit before my time - I'm not sure).


Via Google Image Search, I managed to find scans of several of the original covers. There have been later reprints of these books with new cover art, but these are the editions I remember so fondly, having borrowed them from the library when I was in middle school.


Some years ago, when my two sons were still young kids, I found one book from the series (below) at a public library discards sale. It was a pleasure to hold it again after so many years - and even more so when I read from it to my boys at bedtime.


I must confess, I have always been drawn to any artwork by Robert McCloskey. I probably read Make Way for Ducklings when I was in Grade 1...


... and I remember reading Homer Price (and absolutely laugh-out-loud loving it) when I was in Grade 3 or 4.


At that early age, I doubt I made the connection - or a few years later, for that matter, when I read the Henry Reed series - that all these books where illustrated by the same artist. But the artwork looked comfortably familiar and that enhanced my enjoyment of author Keith Robertson's funny, engaging stories.


There are plenty of other illustrators who do more visually dynamic work. Robert McCloskey did not draw "eye candy." You could almost go so far as to say McCloskey's work is plain and simple. Meat n' potatoes art.


Be that as it may, nothing beats a good home-cooked meal... and that's how I see McCloskey's work: nothing fancy; but delicious, honest, authentic art you can sink your teeth into. And every bite leaves you feeling cosy and satisfied.


I won't go on too much further with my description, except to say that there's more than meets the eye in a typical McCloskey illustration...


You just have to stop every now and then and take a closer look. This guy did substantial, quality artwork.


Here are a few more examples from Henry Reed's Journey. Enjoy - and should you every come across these books in a used book shop, do yourself a favour and pick them up.



Henry Reed's adventures are still great summer reading...




... even after all these years.



  1. Absolutely! I read this during the summer checked out from the library, too. The art grabbed my eye and the stories were wonderful. I felt I was the only one who read them, too, having read them in the late seventies...

  2. Sounds like our timing was similar, MangMade - I would have read them in the mid-70s. So many great book series back then. I also loved the formats: these and the Beverly Cleary books (Ramona, Beezus, Henry) came in that nice old style hardcover school library binding, but many early '70s young reader books I enjoyed came in that slightly oversized Dell paperback format. I still look for those early '70s Dell paperbacks whenever I'm in a used bookstore... :^)

  3. I found some of these at the library about a dozen years ago when looking through the children's section with my son. I liked reading them to him because I appreciated the art.

  4. I'm passing this post on to my wife -- McCloskey's One Morning in Maine was the key book of her childhood. (Along similar lines: McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal and Time of Wonder.)

  5. Along with the above books Michael mentioned, Homer Price was one of my childhood favorites (I have a copy from a used book store). I also loved Lentil.

  6. Yes! The Cleary books, the formats you mentioned. We are time-aligned. The illustration in Ramona the Pest with one of her fingers executed like a loop of yarn kind of freaked me out.

  7. Anonymous2:55 AM

    Just because of the distinct qualities you described here, this is Eye Candy for me.

  8. Anonymous1:54 PM

    ...perhaps it's not "sweet" enough to be called "eye candy".
    How about
    Eye Fine Food?

  9. Anonymous12:51 PM

    I enjoyed reading the Henry Reed books while in elementary school back in the 70's. I plan to purchase copies for my children.