Three by the Sea by Mini Grey Picture Book Analysis

Three By The Sea is a 2010 picture book by British writer-illustrator Mini Grey. This storyteller comes from South Wales, which is somewhat evident in the setting. The most widely borrowed picture book from Mini Grey is the wonderfully metafictional Traction Man series.

This one has metafictional elements also, and offers plenty of picture book techniques to discuss. I even get into colonialist ideology and heteronormative gender roles.

By the way, there is a 1981 picture book that goes by the same title. That one is by Edward Marshall and was featured on America’s Reading Rainbow.

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Hunting And Trapping In Art And Illustration

The Story of Siegfried illustrated by Howard Pyle (American, 1853-1911)

Stalking Horse: a person or thing that is used to conceal someone’s real intentions. I heard this phrase used to describe a tactic used by Woolworths Australia, who installed a digital mirror at some self-serve check outs. They said that they were not retaining any images, and if customers don’t like it, customers were free to use the staffed check outs instead. Then it turned out they were indeed (allegedly) retaining customer images after all. More literally: the stalking horse is a screen (traditionally made in the shape of a horse) behind which a hunter may stay concealed when stalking prey.

Georg Pencz, The Hunter Caught by the Hares, c. 1535
Georg Pencz, The Hunter Caught by the Hares, c. 1535
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Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Sendak and Zolotow Analysis

Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present is a 1962 picture book written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Zolotow and Sendak were both giants of American picture book world. Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present was also a Caldecott Medal Honor Book, so it’s interesting to look through a contemporary lens and see how picture books have changed, or how reader responses have changed. The word which frequently crops up in consumer reviews of Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present is ‘creepy’.

It’s wonderful, and probably necessary, for children to have the opportunity to do something nice for the adults in their lives. Children by their nature must constantly be on the receiving end of care, attention and gifts, but it’s a wonderful feeling to be a child and to do something you know is truly appreciated by those who normally take care of you.

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962

Mr Rabbit seems to be more of a Pooka, as in the classic movie Harvey of the mid 20th century.

Harvey is a 1950 American comedy-drama film based on Mary Chase’s 1944 play…The story centers on a man whose best friend is a pooka named Harvey, a 6 foot 3.5 inch tall invisible rabbit, and the ensuing debacle when the man’s sister tries to have him committed to a sanatorium.

Wikipedia
Harvey DVD cover rabbit mirror
A Texas Jackrabbit post card 1950s
A Texas Jackrabbit post card 1950s
Elwood P. Dowd from ‘Harvey’
Elwood P. Dowd from ‘Harvey’

I’m Gen X, so for me the massive rabbit friend in Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present reminds me of Donnie Darko.

The púca (Irish for spirit/ghost; plural púcaí), pookaphouka is primarily a creature of Celtic folklore. Considered to be bringers both of good and bad fortune, they could help or hinder rural and marine communities. Púcaí can have dark or white fur or hair. The creatures were said to be shape-changers, which could take the appearance of horses, goats, cats, dogs, and hares. They may also take a human form, which includes various animal features, such as ears or a tail.

WIKIPEDIA

There was a time when massive rabbits were in fashion. The example below is an ‘Illustrated letter to Grace Orpen’ by William Orpen, undated. Fantasy rabbits have gotten a lot smaller in children’s stories, perhaps because massive rabbits are CREEPY.

SETTING OF MR RABBIT AND THE LOVELY PRESENT

This is a fairytale setting in a prelapsarian forest, where there is always enough food.

Noteworthy: the absence of blue. Like Rosie’s Walk, there is a complete absence of blue in the palette, a decision clearly made by Maurice Sendak, who had plenty of opportunity to include some blue when the text talked about ‘blue’ grapes. He made them purple (close enough). Interestingly, blue as a concept is relatively recent. See for example reference to the ‘wine dark sea’ in Homer’s Odyssey. Sendak has ignored the concept of blue and gone in the reverse direction. Blue does not exist. Even the sky is greenish.

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962

Why might an illustrator avoid blue? Blue tends to feel ominous. Even the warm tones can feel a bit scary.

The forest is a European forest, which explains why The Little Girl and Mr Rabbit don’t find a banana tree, but instead stumble across someone’s abandoned picnic. I’m not sure if it’s a common reading experience to wonder who abandoned their picnic like that, and whether they’re about to come back to find their banana missing, but that’s where my mind went.

CARNIVALESQUE STORY STRUCTURE OF MR RABBIT AND THE LOVELY PRESENT

Not all carnivalesque stories are paced like The Cat In The Hat, or like one of Madeline’s adventures. Sometimes fun doesn’t look like a carnival, complete with the flying trapeze. Sometimes it looks very much like this: A retreat into imagination, where the pay off is simply doing something nice for someone you love.

The pace of the book is entrancing, part suspenseful, part predictable, feels like sailing in a light summer breeze. I can see why children have loved this book for half a century.

CONSUMER REVIEW

PARATEXT

One of the older covers of this book depicts the girl smiling at the ‘camera’.

[L]ike the smiling image of the girl on the title page of Mr. Rabbit, pictures often imply through signifying gestures that the victims of our gaze are willing victims. We all know that we should “smile for the camera”—show a facial gesture that signifies pleasure to those who will eventually see the picture, and who will view it with a relentless attention that would cause us to stop smiling and feel abused if we experienced it in reality. The covers of many picture books ape such photographs and show their main character in a sort of introductory portrait that implies an acquiescence in the right of viewers to observe and to enjoy what they see. There are also, of course, many picture books whose covers show their protagonists simply getting on with the business at hand, whatever that business may be. But interestingly, those who smile and invite the gaze of viewers are most often female, the others usually male.

Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures

An Every Child is at Home

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962

The Little Girl and Mr Rabbit start their story on a hill in the forest, but the the buildings of civilisation (home) are visible nearby.

The Every Child wishes to have fun.

The Little Girl wants to find the perfect gift for her mother. This is her idea of fun, and regardless of whether this character is a boy or girl, this is what gives the story a feminine sensibility. The female maturity formula is at work here, and so is our patriarchal culture in which girls are more likely to be encouraged to think about the needs of others than boys are. (This, after all, is at the heart of patriarchy.)

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962 2
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962 “But what?” said the little girl.

We still need more stories in which masculo-coded characters are the stars of stories like these.

Disappearance or backgrounding of the home authority figure

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962

Adults in this story are physically absent but emotionally very present. The Little Girl spends the whole time apart from her mother thinking about her mother.

Appearance of an Ally in Fun

In this story, the rabbit is there from the start.

Hierarchy is overturned. Fun ensues.

Unusually for a carnivalesque story, Mr Rabbit has the authority. We can even see it in the names: little girl versus Mr. The rabbit is the authority when it comes to saying things like “You can’t give red”. Usually, carnivalesque rabbits who turn up out of the blue are a bit more fun than this guy.

Modern audiences tend to read this rabbit as creepy. Some readers find him less creepy when they code him as imaginary. For others it doesn’t help. Here’s a man-sized rabbit suggesting red underwear, leaning on a little girl, hanging out with her in the woods… Not questions that were significant (or raised) in the 1960s when this book was nominated for a Caldecott.

Here’s Mr Rabbit invading the little girl’s personal space.

Fun builds!

Rather than ‘building’, this carnivalesque story utilises a repeating structure. Red, yellow, green… The story functions pedagogically, teaching the difference between concrete and abstract nouns (obliquely), colours (for younger readers) and also to consider whether the receipient of a gift would like it. This is complex for young readers, who are inclined to give gifts they themselves would like. The little girl is practising theory of mind.

Although this story is repeating, there is still a build. Ther always is. Sometimes the build is subtle. The build here is in the amazingness of the gift. By the time they look up at the stars and consider giving the stars, the story is utilising a version of The Overview Effect. Many stories feature a contemplation of sky at this part of the narrative. This helps readers to connect the events of any given story to more universal themes. (Yes, it’s very literal.) And because we’re used to stories structured in this way, a glance up at the sky (or down from the sky in a low angle shot) helps to convey the sense of an ending.

Peak Fun!

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1962

Surprise! (for the reader)

On first read, I half expected the story to end with the appearance of the mother, and her pleasure at receiving the thoughtful gift. But the mother never appears. We are left to imagine how much the mother will appreciate the fruit basket.

The gag in this story is very minor:

“Happy birthday and happy basket of fruit to your mother.”

(Because it’s not usual to say ‘happy basket of fruit’.)

Return to the Home state

The rabbit and girl have said goodbye. This particular carnivalesque story did not begin inside the house, so it does not end inside the house, either. ♦

Lemon girl young adult novella

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Cats In Disguise

Cats are good at hiding. This is probably why, in our human stories, we like to anthropomorphise cats and imagine they are in disguise. This probably accounts partly for why cats are the number one suspect when it comes to witches’ familiars. Humans have the ability to ‘know’ something is there, even if there is zero evidence, e.g. witches. We also have the ability to attribute intent where none is there; a bug in our comparatively advanced cognitive empathy.

Anton Seder Die Pflanze Naturalistischer Teil pl 138 (1886-87) cat
Anton Seder Die Pflanze Naturalistischer Teil pl 138 (1886-87) cat
Kagayama Hakuho, Byobu with Cat Lazing in a Summer garden,1920 – 1930
Kagayama Hakuho, Byobu with Cat Lazing in a Summer garden,1920 – 1930
Carol Barker, 1964 cat
Ronald Searle's Cats, 1967 Cat of a thousand disguises concealing itself as a rug
Ronald Searle’s Cats, 1967 Cat of a thousand disguises concealing itself as a rug
The New Yorker Cover - January 15, 1979 - Ronald Searle, this time disguised as a cushion (sort of)
The New Yorker Cover – January 15, 1979 – Ronald Searle, this time disguised as a cushion (sort of)

Bernard Kliban (American, 1935-1990), Halloween Cats in masks
Bernard Kliban (American, 1935-1990), Halloween Cats in masks
Bernard Kliban (American, 1935-1990) Halloween Cats
Satoko Watanabe
Satoko Watanabe
Remedios Varo - The Fern Cat (El Gato Helecho), 1957
Remedios Varo – The Fern Cat (El Gato Helecho), 1957

Inky Illustrations of Cats

There are many ways of rendering cats in illustration. By letting ink run into the paper, cats can look beautifully soft and furry.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) ink blot cats by Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) ink blot cats by Andy Warhol
Clare Turlay Newberry (American, 1903-1970) cat kittens
Clare Turlay Newberry (American, 1903-1970)
Louis Icart, (1880-1950) detail from an etching, c. 1925
Louis Icart, (1880-1950) detail from an etching, c. 1925
Tsuguharu Foujita (Japanese-French, 1886-1968) from Book of Cats, 1930
Tsuguharu Foujita (Japanese-French, 1886-1968) from Book of Cats, 1930
Hannes Kilian - Cat Nero in the Snow, 1953
Hannes Kilian – Cat Nero in the Snow, 1953
Endre Penovac Serbian artist cat
Endre Penovac Serbian artist
Marjorie L. Cooper (American, 1910-1999), pen name Elizabeth Webbe, An illustration from the book 'The Kitten Twins' 1960
Marjorie L. Cooper (American, 1910-1999), pen name Elizabeth Webbe, An illustration from the book ‘The Kitten Twins’ written by Helen Wing 1960
Clare Turlay Newberry (American,1903-1970) - April’s Kittens cat
Clare Turlay Newberry (American, 1903-1970) – April’s Kittens cat
Clare Turlay Newberry (1903-1970), c. 1937 cat
Clare Turlay Newberry (1903-1970), c. 1937
Lemon girl young adult novella

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Women and Cats in Art

There is a strong link between women, girls and cats. In fiction, for instance, women are frequently described as cats (and also as birds).

Then there’s the witch link between women and cats, who are thought to be witches’ familiars. During the witch craze, a small proportion of men were also tried for witchcraft, but the modern witch archetype is an old woman who sometimes transmogrifies into a beautiful young woman in order to trick men or to test them.

Nine lives: Cats are said to have nine lives, and women ten cats lives.

from a 1703 dictionary of slang

Then there’s the modern dismissive archetype of the ‘crazy cat lady’, for which there is no male counterpart.

Below are some artworks celebrating the relationship between women, girls and their cats.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960)
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960)
Lois Lenski, Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been,Jolly Rhymes of Mother Goose, Platt & Munk, 1922
Lois Lenski, Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been,Jolly Rhymes of Mother Goose, Platt & Munk, 1922
We Have Always Lived In The Castle girl with cat
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Dentist's Cook, 1922 by Peggy Bacon (1895-1967)
The Dentist’s Cook, 1922 by Peggy Bacon (1895-1967)
Edward Gorey
Edward Gorey
Illustration by Erik Blegvad
Illustration by Erik Blegvad
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Balinese, Birman, Burmese and Siamese Cats In Art

Agnes Tait (American, 1894-1981), Sailor Cats, 1941
Agnes Tait (American, 1894-1981), Sailor Cats, 1941
C.F. Tunnicliffe watercolor - Siamese cat on a branch in blossom
CHARLES FREDERICK TUNNICLIFFE R.A. (BRITISH, 1901-1979)– Siamese cat on a branch in blossom
CHARLES FREDERICK TUNNICLIFFE R.A. (BRITISH, 1901-1979) Siamese cat
Janusz Grabianski Siamese Cat (and mouse)
Janusz Grabianski Siamese Cat (and mouse)
Eileen Mayo, Woman and Siamese Cat (1953), lithograph
Eileen Mayo, Woman and Siamese Cat (1953), lithograph
There is Nothing Like a Cat illustrated by Rosalind Welcher, 1968
There is Nothing Like a Cat illustrated by Rosalind Welcher, 1968
The Blue Book of Fairy Tales illustrated by Gordon Laite (1959) Beauty and the Beast
The Blue Book of Fairy Tales illustrated by Gordon Laite (1959) Beauty and the Beast. Laite gives Beauty a Siamese cat as companion.
Harry Cat's Pet Puppy illustrated by Garth Williams
Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy illustrated by Garth Williams
Lemon girl young adult novella

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The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame Analysis

Wind in the Willows cover David Petersen

The Wind In The Willows is an Edwardian (1908) novel by Scottish born British writer Kenneth Grahame. This book is an example of a story from the First Golden Age of Children’s Literature. Idyllic settings were popular at the time. Idylls remained popular up to and including A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books (written 1924-1928).

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Fish Bowls In Art

George Dunlop Leslie - The Goldfish Seller

The fishbowl is a common symbol of surveillance, as is a glass house. For house cats, the fish bowl is a miniature version of the pond or lake — domestic version.

Blanchie and the Goldfish from the book Clever Cats a Chimney Corner Series unknown author and illustrator, published by Peter G. Thomson, Cincinatti, Ohio, 1885
Blanchie and the Goldfish from the book Clever Cats a Chimney Corner Series unknown author and illustrator, published by Peter G. Thomson, Cincinatti, Ohio, 1885
possibly by Jeanne Hebbelynck
possibly by Jeanne Hebbelynck
Mother Goose book, published in 1915 with illustrations by Frederick Richardson How many days has my baby to play goldfish bowl
Mother Goose book, published in 1915 with illustrations by Frederick Richardson How many days has my baby to play goldfish bowl
Ethel Larcombe  (1876-1940) Peaseblossom Fairies for the Rose Fyleman poem A Fairy Went A-Marketing fish bowl
Ethel Larcombe (1876-1940) Peaseblossom Fairies for the Rose Fyleman poem A Fairy Went A-Marketing
Harrison Cady, The Bug Artist, 1917
Harrison Cady, The Bug Artist, 1917
Henri Matisse Goldfish Cat
Henri Matisse Goldfish Cat
Henri Matisse Cat and Redfish
Henri Matisse Cat and Redfish
Jessie Willcox Smith (September 6, 1863 – May 3, 1935) goldfish bowl
Jessie Willcox Smith (September 6, 1863 – May 3, 1935)
by Gilbert Wilkinson cat goldfish
by Gilbert Wilkinson
Anne Anderson and Alan Wright husband and wife illustrators, from The Cuddly Kitty and the Busy Bunny by Clara G Dennis 1927 goldfish
Anne Anderson and Alan Wright husband and wife illustrators, from The Cuddly Kitty and the Busy Bunny by Clara G Dennis 1927
Dutch poster for Philips Tv, 1951 fish
Dutch poster for Philips TV, 1951
Shukan Shincho cover by Rokuro Taniuchi 1979
Shukan Shincho cover by Rokuro Taniuchi 1979
Illustration by Carlo Bisi, 1932
Illustration by Carlo Bisi, 1932
French fashion illustrations c.1920s George Barbier
French fashion illustrations c.1920s George Barbier

Brigid Lucy tries to be good, but it doesn’t always work. This could be due to the invisible imp hiding in her hair. When Biddy’s pet slug dies in tragic circumstances, Dad promises to buy her a new pet. But Dad is allergic to almost every pet in the shop! Things get even worse when the invisible imp in Biddy’s hair decides to get involved. She can’t help but encourage Biddy into trouble.

Erte 1977 fishbowl
Erte 1977 fishbowl
Amy Millicent Sowerby (1878-1967) fish bowl
Amy Millicent Sowerby (1878-1967)

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

Cat and Bowl of Goldfish, 1933 by Ohara Koson (Shoson) (1877 - 1945)
Cat and Bowl of Goldfish, 1933 by Ohara Koson (Shoson) (1877 – 1945)
Marguerite Davis, 1936
Marguerite Davis, 1936
Le Monde A Envers, (Pomme d’Api), 1942 goldfish
Divito, Patoruzú If the wife keeps throwing the husband's whiskey into the fish bowl, I don't know how I'm going to normalize my life
Divito, Patoruzú If the wife keeps throwing the husband’s whiskey into the fish bowl, I don’t know how I’m going to normalize my life
Cat and Goldfish from the series One Hundred Tales. Utagawa Kuniyoshi. 1839
Cat and Goldfish from the series One Hundred Tales. Utagawa Kuniyoshi. 1839
From ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ 1966 Written by Elizabeth Rose Illustrated by Gerald Rose ( b. 1935) fish bowl
From ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ 1966 Written by Elizabeth Rose Illustrated by Gerald Rose ( b. 1935) fish bowl

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom – the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it – somehow.

Friday Fishing Day by Théophile A. Steinlen (1859-1923)
Friday Fishing Day by Théophile A. Steinlen (1859-1923)
Lemon girl young adult novella

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Header painting: George Dunlop Leslie – The Goldfish Seller