Books by Barbara Cooney

ELEANOR by Barbara Cooney
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

"From the beginning the baby was a disappointment to her mother," Cooney (The Story of Christmas, 1995, etc.) begins in this biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. She is a plain child, timid and serious; it is clear that only a few people loved her. After her parents die, she is cared for in the luxurious homes of wealthy relatives, but does not find acceptance until she arrives in a British boarding school, where she thrives on the attention of the headmistress, who guides, teaches, and inspires her. Cooney does not gloss over the girl's misery and disappointments; she also shows the rare happy times and sows the seeds of Eleanor's future work. The illustrations of house interiors often depict Eleanor as an isolated, lonely figure, her indistinct face and hollow eyes watching from a distance the human interactions she does not yet enjoy. Paintings reveal the action of a steamship collision; the hectic activity of a park full of children and their governesses; a night full of stars portending the girl's luminous future. The image of plain Eleanor being fitted with her first beautiful dress is an indelible one. Readers will be moved by the unfairness of her early life and rejoice when she finds her place in the world. An author's note supplies other relevant information. (Picture book/biography. 5-9)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 30, 1995

This revision of Cooney's Christmas (1967) is aimed at a religiously diverse audience. The word Christian has been all but eliminated; the New Testament quotations have been omitted. Herod's charge to the Wise Men, the Slaughter of the Innocents, and the Flight into Egypt are gone. What remains is a good brief history of ancient midwinter festivals and how they became melded with the Christian celebration. Present-day European and American customs are described (Santa's visits are presented as fact); end matter includes a recipe and directions for making a clove-studded orange and a pinecone bird feeder. Krupinski's pretty illustrations are appropriately nostalgic. Institutions concerned about the religious content of their materials will be comfortable with this presentation; Christian readers may find it somewhat blunt. (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

This traditional Tyrolean folktale, which was retold by Newbery Medal-winner Sawyer in 1941, is being rereleased with new pictures by award-winning artist Cooney (Hattie and the Wild Waves, 1990, etc.). The resulting book, however, is a big disappointment considering the renown of its author- illustrator team. The story of goblin King Laurin who appears at the poor cobbler's hut and shares his wealth with the cobbler's little sons would be more appealing if King Laurin wasn't as abusive as he is generous. Why must he torment the boys, berating them and kicking them, before he hands over the loot? The language is also above the heads of three- to eight-year-olds who won't be impressed by the "comfits" that the goblin causes to tumble from the sons' pockets. Cooney's vanilla illustrations add little to the tale. Unremarkable. (Folklore/Picture book. 3-8)Read full book review >
ONLY OPAL by Opal Whiteley
Released: March 23, 1994

Born about 1900, Opal Whiteley was five when she was sent to live with an Oregon loggers' family after her parents "went to Heaven." She kept a diary "of my fifth and sixth year," during which she stayed home from school to do laundry for "the mama where I live," who found her a "nuisance" and frequently struck her; made pets of a crow ("Lars Porsena"), a mouse ("Felix Mendelssohn"), and several other animals; confided in a "grand" tree ("...Michael Raphael...He has an understanding soul") and mourned when it was felled; visited a girl with "no seeing," who enjoyed the flowers she brought; and wondered whether "Kind God" might allow her parents to be her "Guardian Angels." Boulton, a poet who (according to the jacket) is the "author" of "a full adaptation of Opal's diary," is cited by LC as author of this book, but according to the publisher these quaint, naive, wonderfully telling words are Opal's own, selected from the complete diary as it has survived. A note explains that the original was torn into "a million pieces" by a stepsister, then pieced together and published in the 20's—a tantalizing glimpse of Opal's subsequent life, otherwise unrevealed here. Cooney's illustrations are perfect—delicate and beautifully observed, her misty landscapes make an elegant setting for a thoughtful, sturdy child, finding her gentle but indomitable way among strangers who have no conception of her true quality. A touching, fascinating portrait. (Autobiography/Picture book. 4+)Read full book review >
EMILY by Michael Bedard
Released: Nov. 1, 1992

A Canadian novelist (Redwork, 1990) pays tribute to Amherst's great poet. Dickinson's new neighbor, a little girl, tells the story: a poetic missive—dried flowers with a plea to the child's mother to "Revive me with your music. It would be spring to me"—is slipped through the mail slot. Mother is reluctant, but Father senses the quality behind "the Myth," explaining that poetry is like music: "...sometimes a magic happens and it seems the music starts to breathe. It sends a shiver through you." When mother and child pay their call, Emily flees upstairs to listen to the piano from the landing, where the child joins her for a brief exchange of words and impromptu gifts—the lily bulbs she has brought for a precious bit of paper with a handwritten poem. The story is very quiet but beautifully crafted, with a clarity of observation and a delicately tart edge that creditably emulate Emily herself. Cooney's exquisite mixed- media art is perfect for the 19th-century New England setting; her beautifully balanced compositions are enriched with charming domestic detail and just a hint of satirical humor. An evocative glimpse of a formal society that will seem quite foreign to most children today, and of a mysterious, oddly independent woman who fascinated her own contemporaries as much as she does ours. (Picture book. 5+)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1992

The bittersweet story of Quabbin Reservoir, made by flooding a valley—and several towns—in central Massachusetts between 1927 and 1946. Yolen's poetic narration, in the voice of a woman who was six years old when her family learned they would have to give up their home, recalls the tranquillity of a rural community where children fished in the river and picnicked in the graveyard. Then, "it was voted in Boston to drown our towns that the people in the city might drink." Graves are moved, trees cut, homes bulldozed, and the river dammed to cover the little towns and create a new, quite beautiful landscape. Cooney's luminous, exquisitely designed watercolors, in tenderly glowing colors, focus on carefully selected details, like loving memories that retain only the most significant particulars. In the last scenes, the narrator and her father revisit the scene in a rowboat, pointing out underwater landmarks and finally, looking "down into the darkening deep," letting them go. A lovely book about reconciling necessary change with the enduring value of what is lost. (Picture book. 4+)Read full book review >
ROXABOXEN by Alice McLerran
Released: April 22, 1991

The author recalls a rocky Arizona hilltop where her mother and the neighborhood friends of her childhood fashioned a town from old crates, rocks, and an endless supply of imagination. Streets and houses were added, offices held ("Marian was mayor of course; that was just the way she was. Nobody minded"), businesses thrived, and found objects were put to artful use. There were sticks as swift horses to ride, a jail with cactus on the floor, wars (the fort was always safe), a cemetery (just one dead lizard, and flowers)—a microcosmic world of happy improvisation. Turning her palette to dusty blues and the other rich hues of the desert, Cooney captures the setting and the joy with her usual lucid design, gentle wit, and grasp of what is beguiling and significant. Many books memorialize imaginative play in the hope of inspiring a new generation, but rarely with so much creative and evocative power. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
ISLAND BOY by Barbara Cooney
Kirkus Star
illustrated by Barbara Cooney
Released: Oct. 1, 1988

One man's life, from the time his farmer father brings his family to settle on an island in Maine till the end of his long, productive life, when he leaves his daughter and grandson—who are also content to live on the island. Cooney brings a rich texture to her beautifully shaped and cadenced story. Matthias, the youngest of 12 lively children, is the last to leave home (he spends years sailing the coast, trading commodities like bricks for the growing communities) and the only one to return. Unhackneyed incidents beautifully illuminate his character and surroundings: though told it can't be done, as a boy he tames a gull (called Toad: too young to fly, it hops) that gets seasick when taken fishing; when "the hens ain't laying," he gets eggs for the family from the plentiful sea birds. In old age, Matthias isn't tempted to sell his valuable property to the rich folks "from away," although he does sell them vegetables. And when his dory goes down in rough seas, his family and neighbors (new and old) can truly say, "A good man. . .A good life." Cooney's serene illustrations for this tribute to self-reliance and an ideal American life are as lovely as the ones for Miss Rurnphius, and as evocative of their setting as those in Ox-Cart Man. Who could fail to love this clean world where luminous water meets luminous sky, where each delicately rendered detail is vibrant with its Own reality and essential to an elegant composition? Outstanding. Read full book review >
MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney
Released: Oct. 11, 1982

You might almost believe that Barbara Cooney had a Great-Aunt Alice Rumphius who did just as we read here—else why go to the trouble of spinning out a yarn, composed of transparent storybook motifs (an elderly grandfather who carves ships' figureheads; travels to exotic places; a solitary cottage by the sea), just to arrive at an old lady who strews lupine seeds about? Ostensibly, she's fulfilling her promise to her grandfather to "do something to make the world more beautiful"; in Barbara Cooney's precisionist Maine coast pictures, the drifts of lupine blooms are a tribute to the lupine lady per se. It's a lovely notion, in short, if not much (or too much) of a story. Read full book review >
OX-CART MAN by Donald Hall
Released: Oct. 22, 1979

Plain but pleasingly cadenced, concrete as the list of commodities that makes up much of the text, yet radiating a sense of life's cyclic rhythms, this tells of an early New England farmer going off to Portsmouth market. He sells products the family has raised and grown, sells products they have made from what they raised and grew, then sells the containers (apple barrel, potato bag) the goods were in, and finally sells his ox cart, harness, and ox, before buying some humble household tools and walking home (with "coins still in his pocket") to start again. . . "stitching a new harness for the young ox in the barn." Without Cooney's illustrations—comely and decorous scenes in the manner of early American folk painting—this might seem almost too plain. But she makes a satisfying, full (and eye-filling) experience of the everyday round, as she follows the farmer and his family through the peaceful countryside and the changing seasons—reflecting their unselfconscious accord with nature in her own seamless accord with the text. Read full book review >
Released: May 29, 1969

An alphabet of southern colonial pastimes that you'll run your fingers over first (the flecks of oil paint are that palpable), grin at (such cheerful, airy scenes) then examine for the sly detail. Altogether from A—"A wicked Archer with cruel Arrow/Shot and killed a little sparrow"—to V—"Across the field and over by the pond/ I found a Valentine from one of whom I'm fond"—and beyond, it's one of Miss Cooney's most beguiling gambols. And one of the most artfully designed—a succession of sturdy paintings that somehow float on the page. Read full book review >
CHRISTMAS by Barbara Cooney
Released: Oct. 16, 1967

After recounting the Nativity as it appears in the Gospels, Miss Cooney introduces the observance of the event thus: "Long before the birth of Jesus there were midwinter festivals," signal that this is to be a historical and not a doctrinaire Christmas. The Northern Yule season is credited with the ceremony of the Yule log and the appearance of Odin as precursor to St. Nicholas; to the Roman Saturnalia is attributed the practice of ceasing activity, feasting and exchanging gifts in December. "Finally, five hundred years after Jesus was born, the Church decided to celebrate Jesus' birthday in December. In this way, many of the merry pagan customs become part of the Christmas festival." Brief mention of the manner of celebrating in different countries (including the U.S.) and some legendary references conclude. Without approaching irreverence, this is an informed, sensible presentation and a supplement to the many legendary recreations. Read full book review >
COCK ROBIN by Barbara Cooney
Released: Oct. 1, 1965

Who killed Cook Robin? Never mind that question. Who brought him back to life? Barbara Cooney does, with lightly colored, tiny but tangible illustrations. The whole serio/comic, preeminently recitable history of Cock Robin's wedding and death are here, all in one place by themselves, a relief from the unhandily heavy special collections. In the 19th century, historians of education say, Cock Robin was acted out by school children. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1960

Noah Webster's speller was, one hundred years ago, almost as much a part of the American home as the Bible. Here in an adapted version, with quaint illustrations by the author, is this compendium of sounds, letters, and meaning. Letters, individually, or in common combination are introduced and used in illustrative context. By the time the child has absorbed this text—and he should eagerly—he will be familiar with not only the vagaries of English spelling and phonetics, but with the appealing wit of Noah Webster, a plain talking American who managed to look everywhere at once with the freshness of a child's eye. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1958

Adapted from the Chaucer, this is the fable of the vain but wise Cock and the crafty fox. Told in tasteful but simplified language, Barbara Cooney conveys the wisdom and charm of this story both through her discriminating use of language and her stylized illustrations which show the influence of illuminated manuscripts. A story which needs no defense, handled here with respect and facility. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 23, 1943

Mystery, thinly veiled and guessable, but a factor in selling a book which is fun reading in its salty sense of the coast of Maine setting. Cherry has come to visit her mother's childhood home, meets her sailor cousin on the narrow gauge train, and together they manage to make things hum. In retrospect there's not much originality in the story, but that doesn't matter much as you read. Read full book review >
THE KELLYHORNS by Barbara Cooney
Released: Aug. 6, 1942

The Kellyhorns are twins who were separated when their mother dies, Penny living with her father on an island off the Maine coast and Pam with an aunt on the mainland. When they are twelve they meet for the first time at the annual Uxton Fair. They are determined to bring the family together and finally after a terrific adventures, they succeed. A good girl's story illustrated by the author, who wrote King of Wreck Island. Unfortunately the jacket is very unappealing. Read full book review >
KING OF WRECK ISLAND by Barbara Cooney
Released: Aug. 25, 1941

This is fun- a whimsical, original and humorous story, with lots of New England saltiness. Young Randy had always wanted to go across the bay to the inaccessible, unexplored island known as Wreck Island. It takes a storm, and the first recorded freezing of the bay, to bring the old sole inhabitant over to the mainland, where he shares his story with Randy, and gives Randy the chance to go to the island himself and to become heir to his "kingdom". Amusing pictures in black and white. Read full book review >

A story that, like Cooney's Miss Rumphuis (1982) and Island Boy (1988), presents the life of an idiosyncratic character in the context of a historical setting. Hattie's parents, German immigrants, are already wealthy; Papa, who is "in the woodwork business," has built a beautiful house with gleaming paneling in every room. There are servants, a summer "cottage" at Far Rockaway, and—as time goes on—ever more luxurious surroundings. Quietly undeterred by affluence, Hattie makes a good friend of the cook's granddaughter and, as an inveterate artist who has always been inspired by the sea, grows up to enroll in art school—not "just like Opa" (her mother's father, a painter) but, as Hattie says, "Just like me." Hattie's Papa, like Cooney's grandfather, builds a fine Brooklyn hotel where the family later lives. This engaging piece of fictionalized family history is graced with Cooney's usual fine illustrations, with fluent, perfectly balanced compositions, delectable, lucid color, and nifty authentic detail. A disarming portrait that makes clear that wealth is incidental to a happy, creative life. Read full book review >