Books by M.B. Goffstein

Released: June 1, 1987

Another of Goffstein's wonderful picture-book whimsies, reminiscent of Lionni's Swimmy and Little Blue and Little Yellow in its visual imaginativeness, although without a real plot line. "Blanc, Noir, Gris, Bistre, and Sanguine were artists' helpers by trade, and good friends personally." They were also pastel crayons, and French by nationality (you can tell because they all wear berets). One at a time, each is saved from invisibility against a background of a similar color, e.g., blanc (white) from snow. Later, they join for evenings at a cafÉ or in each other's homes, or, in the finale, at a masquerade, disguised as each other. As usual, Goffstein's gentle imagination will appeal to many adults and a smaller but significant number of children. Any child who has fallen in love with a new box of crayons will be able to understand how this book came to be; and there are some important artistic perceptions to be learned from the story. A special book. Read full book review >
OUR SNOWMAN by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Sept. 1, 1986

Goffstein's second book in gently detailed pastels brings reverence to a familiar childhood event. The simple text evokes a childhood memory of a brother and sister building the first snowman of the season, only to lament its loneliness out there in the yard ("We never should have made him"), a problem heartwarmingly solved when father and sister build him a companion after supper. The gray-framed illustrations glow in soft brightness, their details fuzzy, a technique most effective in the outdoor scenes, caught as if through a snowfall. This distancing enhances the elegaic nature of the story, as do the many concrete descriptions related as a child would remember them. It's made to be shared and blended with other memories on long winter evenings. Read full book review >
A WRITER by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Sept. 1, 1984

A small, crystalline image of what it means to be a writer—to set beside Goffstein's luminous portrait of An Artist. "A writer sits on her couch, holding an idea,/ until it's time to set words upon paper,/to cut, prune, plan, and shape them." Setting words on paper, the writer stands at a desk; cutting, pruning, etc., she's recumbent, in thought. The writer, we hear, is a gardener—"never sure of her ground, or of which seeds are rooting there." In gentle, spare watercolors, we see a slender tree, a few pansy blossoms, "two small green leaves close to the soil. Two tiny sentinels, in the bare earth—yet "If a rabbit eats them, she's not mad at him. She knows more will grow." There is nothing fey or precious here. The writer sits over coffee and cookies with a friend; she sits at a typewriter—in a return to the central imagery—"hoping her books/will spread the seeds of ideas." A sense of discipline joins a wish to beguile. Read full book review >
Released: March 18, 1982

Poetic evocations of five artists—Rembrandt, Guardi, Van Gogh, Bonnard, Nevelson—accompanied by a painting in full color at the outset and a drawing at the close (except in the case of Nevelson's sculpture—where the pattern is tellingly reversed). Just who these little tributes might be written for would be hard to say, since the references will be obscure to most young people—even in an atypically straightforward instance: "Guardi,/we don't know/too much about you./Your sister wed/Tiepolo./Your father,/your two brothers,/ and your sons/ were painters, too./In your time Canaletto/was acknowledged master/of the Venetian view." (The comparison with Canaletto on the two succeeding pages is well-drawn—if one knows Canaletto's work.) A child sensitive to word-sounds might read on regardless; and a child responsive to art and reflectively-inclined might respond to the lines opposite the sturdy, intent little Rembrandt drawing: "Every outside/has an inside,/and every inside/has an outside./ Just one stroke/ of Rembrandt's/chalk,/needle, brush, or pen/could tell both tales./ They tell them/ to this day." But this is the sort of anamolous object best discovered under a toadstool—or presented, knowingly, as a gift. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1980

A Hanukkah whimsy for whimsical Jewish families. "Why for eight nights, in the candlelight, are the latkes laughing?" The uninitiated reader will learn, in time, that latkes are potato pancakes; but the rhetorical questions put forth in answer to the central query presume that "we" know what we're talking about: "Does a latke laugh for joy because our temple in Jerusalem was not destroyed? Do potato pancakes celebrate the might of Judah Maccabee? Do they picture in Israel, two thousand years later, former Prime Minister Golda Meir also frying latkes?" No one but Goffstein could get away with this dry drollery—the laughing latkes are impish without being the least arch—but then no one else would dream it up. And why are the latkes laughing? "Because they're potatoes!" At which we see them laughing all the harder—at us. The right Jewish families will relish it as an affectionate spoof of the practice of posing a question in answer to a question, and as a very untraditional, unhackneyed evocation of the holiday; non-Jewish parents of a subtle turn of mind may also be intrigued. Read full book review >
AN ARTIST by M.B. Goffstein
illustrated by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Sept. 1, 1980

A small, sturdy, shapely evocation of the artist's calling, prefaced by a quotation from Pisarro—"Only painting counts"—and featuring a white-bearded, straw-hatted Pissarro-like painter. "An artist is like God, but small," it begins. "He can't see out of God's creation,/ for it includes him./ With the seas divided,/ all the animals named,/ and the sun and moon and stars/ set in their tracks,/ an artist spends his life/ not only wondering, but wanting to work like God/ with what he can command: his paints." So: "He tries to copy God's creations." And on his easel we see a landscape. "He tries to shape beauty with his hand." A long-curving stroke of the brush. "He tries to make order out of nature." A geometric abstract. "He tries to paint the thoughts and feelings in his mind." Freeforms. Then, the reprise: "An artist is like God/ as God created him./ Small, strong, and with limited days,/ his gift of breath is spent/ over his paintbox./ Choosing and brushing his colors,/ he tries to make paint sing." In its entirety, this may indeed speak more volumes to adults than to children; but excepting only a few phrases near the end ("and with limited days, his gift of breath is spent"), the text is graphic, the imagery plain. And the illustrations—tiny, almost-childlike watercolors into which the palpable figure of the painter is set, a painter within paintings—have an immediate appeal and the resonance of some of Goffstein's best work. It's special, maybe, but it's not forced. Read full book review >
NEIGHBORS by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Aug. 1, 1979

Four small episodes that—in Goffstein's tenuous, tentative way—do for beingneighbors what Lobel's Frog and Toad stories do for being friends. In the first, "a hot, crispy pie" unaccustomedly baked for "my new neighbor" is so much exacting work that, once it's delivered, the narrator falls asleep; the second—involving snow-shoveling—is another shy outreach that, dishearteningly, doesn't quite connect. But in the third, "my new neighbor" comes over herself with lilacs—just after the house has been cleaned in anticipation of inviting her (not that she's ready to admit it—not yet). And the last finds the two impulsively letting down their guards. It takes a certain attentiveness to catch the delicate modulations here—but there are also some wonderful passages of pure, everyday business ("I changed my bedsheets, lemon-oiled the wood furniture, and hit the cushions against my knees") that children will relish for their own sakes. With, of course, Goffstein's precise and eloquent line drawings as accompaniments. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1979

A little paean to brotherly love, animal protection, and peace—along the lines of Ruth Krauss' The Big World and the Little House and other idealistic constructs of the Forties and Fifties. But to counter the abstractness and impersonality here the language is inappropriately hopped-up ("Our planet is a lively ball in the universe"); disparate phenomena are linked and tacitly equated ("But little puffs of smoke erupt where men are fighting, or shooting ducks, or breaking mountains"); basic appositions are simplistic ("Old people look in garbage cans hopefully" while "Low trees hold fruit"); and the outcome is anything but natural history: "Waves of wheat and corn shimmer in the sun. They are made for people. They're made for cows who nurse their calves. They're made for gray wolves with their pups. . . ." Don't believe in a grain-eating wolf till you see one. Read full book review >
MY NOAH'S ARK by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Oct. 1, 1978

The idea of a Noah's ark handed down from generation to generation holds such promise, and so well suits Goffstein's precise, intimate, quietly unfolding manner, that the fact that it remains tenuous, undeveloped—as do the pictures—is all the more a disappointment. "When I was a little girl ninety years ago," begins the small black-clad figure, "my father made me an ark." And she goes on to describe his pleasure in building it, the figures he carved, her special fondness for the sad-looking smaller gray horse—stroked "until. . . there is not much paint left on her, except for her two little eyes, which look grateful." Her father adds more animals; upon marrying, she takes the ark to her new home; and in time she passes both ark and story along to her children. "Now," with everyone gone, the memories remain: "Our fun and sorrow seem to form a rainbow, and it warms me like sunshine." But apart from the father's booming refrain—"Make it three hundred cubits long"—and the expressed fancy for one horse, the narrative hovers, unsecured; the recollection does not become a shared experience. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 13, 1978

For someone whose idea of style even in 1959 is to change her first name and stick matching cardboard daisies on her luggage, Daisy Summerfield comes a long way in a short time. You'll like her from the start though, this wide-eyed Midwesterner whose commonest phrase is "thank you very much" though she can be icy enough to a salesman who tries to pick her up on the train. The change begins when Daisy, on her way to fashion design school in New York though she really longs to be an artist, coolly decides to switch luggage with Daphne Steven, a sandals and peasant blouse type she sees on the train reading Art and Reality and embodying for Daisy the very essence of creativity. Daisy's first move on arrival at the Buxton Hotel for Women is to withdraw from the fashion school, and a piece of walnut and some tools in Daphne's suitcase starts her out in wood carving; later she turns to clay, forming little figures depicting Astonishment, Happiness, etc., and rigged up with baby buttons and thread so that "you can move their arms as you look into their faces." During her first year in New York Daisy makes no friends and goes nowhere but the Greek luncheonette, book store and art supply shop, but her excitement in planning out her figures and getting them right, her yearning and searching for a revolving pedestal on wheels for carving in her room, her delight with her own room and her new sculpture books provide all the ups and downs we need. In the end Daphne reappears, happy with her elegant new wardrobe and with her fiance Alan Kodaly who promises enthusiastically to show Daisy's work to his gallery-owning father. It's a proper fairy tale ending, confirming for the skeptical that Daisy is an artist indeed—but by then it couldn't be dearer that the real joy is all in the getting there. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1978

A Jewish doctor who trades in the car for a pickup truck? The family glimpsed in these seven recollections must be a sociologist's nightmare, but then perhaps anomaly is part of Goffstein's charm. The sketches are mostly bare, first-person projections of glowing small moments, as when the family, riding along in the new pickup, sings the old camp song "Te-ell me wh-hy." But the last becomes a charming appreciation of Alberto Giacometti—surely among the least likely subjects for a children's picture book. As with a real family scrapbook, then, the oddly assorted entries will have different meaning for different members—and fond associations tucked between the lines. Read full book review >
MY CRAZY SISTER by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Oct. 1, 1976

From a picture book artist who makes her point with understatement, the tomato red cover (repeated in frames around the black line drawings) is a surprise—and in fact this is a perkier Goffstein, about the narrator's sister (as pictured, she might as easily be a brother) who moves in, complete with unexplained baby and eccentric, if not crazy, habits. On arrival she plunks her baby on a shelf and forgets him for hours; she buys him a real railroad car instead of a toy train for his birthday; and later she gets an urge to fly and brings home an airplane. But then the narrator, despite her more conservative appearance, invited this last exploit with her peculiar gift: "To show my sister I was glad that she and her baby lived here, I bought her a picture of Amelia Earhart"—and though the sister "turned my whole house upside-down," the hostess repeatedly expresses her "deep joy" in the arrangement. Her happiness in fact is a bit too explicit to convey the maximum Goffstein poignance, but her openness is winning—and so are the characteristically spare drawings of this odd little family that is happy in its very own way. Read full book review >
FISH FOR SUPPER by M.B. Goffstein
Released: April 8, 1976

When my grandmother went fishing she would get up at five o'clock in the morning. . ." to spend the day catching, cleaning, and eating fish. "Then fast, fast, she cleaned up the dishes and went to bed, so she could get up at five o'clock in the morning to go fishing." A spare life, well suited to Goffstein's spare line drawings which never sentimentalize the dumpy grandmother's lonely pleasures. (Veraciously, her expression doesn't even signify that she's enjoying her meal—though the tea and hot fresh rolls make a contrary impression.) Utterly simple, unmistakably individual, implicitly touching—in short, a Goffstein. Read full book review >
ME AND MY CAPTAIN by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Sept. 16, 1974

Goffstein's rather dowdy wooden doll reveals, with an affecting directness that fits her humble form, her dreams of marrying the captain of a fishing boat that sits on the window sill below her shelf. Thus when he was away "my dog and I...would have someone to watch for and wait for...And whatever happened would be something to tell him about when he returned." The doll, the captain and the dog are all firmly attached to round wooden bases and after the first view of their cozy imagined dinner both humans are seen to be standing stiff and upright on their chairs, arms immobile at their sides — a touch which somehow underlines their poignancy at the same time that it emphasizes their make believe character. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1972

Minimal is the word. In cold snowy Vienna a tiny Schubert — that immediately recognizable "short, fat young man with a small round nose, round eyeglasses and curly hair" — sits in a bare, unheated room and works on his music. The room is indicated by just a few floorboards joining a white wall — framed in the center of an otherwise blank page. If nothing seems to be happening, that's just the point; for Franz Schubert heard music when his friends heard nothing, and at last, to chase away the cold, little Franz begins to dance — "He clapped his hands and stamped his feet. . ." and "made his shabby coattails fly" — and the tune carries him right off the edge of the last page to Peter Schaaf's (soft plastic) record of five of Schubert's "Noble Waltzes." There's nobility in the very spareness; a lilt to the title's word play, and Schubert is, of course, the perfect subject for this doll-sized glimpse of greatness. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1972

In clinically affectless prose, the pubescent daydreams of twelve-year-old Paula as she passes a summer on the lake painting watercolors, designing clothes for paper dolls, and imagining that Tom Kadrie, her neighbor's jazz musician boyfriend, is secretly in love with her. Five years later, when she's in New York for a weekend, Paula calls Tom (who hardly remembers her) and makes a date. His seedy apartment, his sexual expectations, his ineffectually half-hearted friendliness all intrude on her carefully cultivated fantasies, but there's none of the morally uplifting, psychologically improbable instant maturity so common in teenage fiction. Paula's unenviable innocence remains intact, and on the plane out of New York we see her interest beginning to shift to the Princeton student sitting in front of her. The illusions and vulnerability of adolescence are depicted with an unflinching accuracy, and young women will find this a moving and sensitive examination of the painful side of growing up. Read full book review >
TWO PIANO TUNERS by M.B. Goffstein
Released: April 15, 1970

Not more story but more text and fewer pictures, perhaps too much text and too few pictures (holding Goldie the Dollmaker as the perfect example). Quite simply and sublimely, Reuben Weinstock is a master piano-tuner and his orphaned granddaughter Debbie, who wakes hm-m-m-m-m-ing middle C, would be another. Does she want to wear something prettier than her jumper to go to the Auditorium with Grandpa while he tunes the grand piano? No, she'd wear pants—"I want to help you." Waiting to surprise Mr. Weinstock is his old friend, the famous pianist Isaac Lipman, and when Debbie takes matters into her own hands—tuning Mrs. Perlman's piano instead of asking for a postponement—he backs her up: her grandfather has insisted on teaching her to play ("You know, I wanted something better for her") but her real talent is for tuning, and "What could be better than doing what you love?" To Mr. Weinstock, Isaac Lipman's triumphant concert is decisive: Debbie praises the piano not the player. For those who are not attuned, illustrations of the enumerated implements and the manner of their use would have been helpful; the occasional drawings are almost incidental, affecting the read-aloudability too. But Debbie is totally disarming—walking down the street thinking "Hello, dogs, here comes the piano tuner"—for a select audience. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1969

Like the smile on the dolls that Goldie Rosenzweig makes, this little book is captivating. Never mind that there's a lot more story than the small size would suggest, that, unlike the earlier Goffsteins, there's much more text than illustration; never mind even (though children may, a little) that the first two illustrations don't jibe with the text. The more you know Goldie, the more you appreciate her: going about her dead parents' house continuing their work of making dolls, oblivious of day and night until each one is complete; ordering a crate from Omus Hirschbein and explaining why she uses only pristine sticks of wood, not his clean, square scraps; visiting the bakery where a little girl buys a sugar cookie to share with a Goldie Rosenzweig doll. Then, in the shop where Mr. Solomon sells her dolls, Goldie is enchanted by a lovely little Chinese lamp; he will take her next three months' output for it, so Goldie carries it off. But Omus Hirschbein calls it "cute," calls her "a real artist — because you're crazy," and she has sad second thoughts; until the lampmaker enters her dreams, insisting "I made the lamp for you — whoever you are," and she realizes, with complete satisfaction, that that's just the way she works. Worth finding the right child or family for and then, again like Goldie's dolls, it will sell itself. Read full book review >
ACROSS THE SEA by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Oct. 14, 1968

Five vignettes, one ("Sophie's Picnic") as unassuming and satisfying as Sleepy People (1966), one offbeat, straight-faced funny ("The Mill"), two that relate to adult responses although the imagery's nice, and one overlong love fest culminating in a one-line joke. The little drawings are appropriately terse and the author/artist is trying again to scale words, narrative, format to small children. Where it works, it works well. Read full book review >
SLEEPY PEOPLE by M.B. Goffstein
Released: Sept. 15, 1966

The title gives the small show away. It's a slow and pleasant piece of propaganda to use with reluctant nappers or at bedtime. The sleepy people shown have the same shapes (nearly formless, very simple wash and line) of The Gats (1965) a Herald Trib honor award book we failed to appreciate much at Kirkus. They are shown as a family unit preparing for bed with their eyes tightly closed and the combination of text and pictures urges imitation. The Sleepys go through a routine for bedding down that includes stretching, yawning, singing quietly and snoring. Effective. Read full book review >
THE GATS! by M.B. Goffstein
Released: March 31, 1966

The gats, which have nothing to do with guns, are shapeless creatures that look like a cross between Piglet and the Goops. The very minimal text, which more or less follows the tribe of gats on their search for a home, reads like a child's narrative based on nothing more cohesive than the rhymes which can be made with gat—cravat, hat, that, vat, bat, etc. The illustrations are very simple black and white ink sketches with some little green leaves. The pictures are in silly greeting card, style, which is about all the book amounts to. Read full book review >