Books by Neil Philip

HOT POTATO by Neil Philip
Released: April 19, 2004

A rich, if skimpy, portion of reprinted verse, this pairs generally cheery scenes of children and grownups chowing down around tables, on a picnic blanket, in a tub, and sundry other venues, with the likes of Russell Hoban's encomium to a "Friendly Cinnamon Bun," and Lewis Carroll's to "Beautiful Soup." Dads come off as clueless in Michael Rosen's title poem and John Ciardi's "Mommy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast." Best is Douglas Florian's plea to "Send my spinach / Off to Spain. / Parcel post it / On a train. / Mail it, / Sail it / On a ship. / Just don't let it / Touch my lip." The contents are available elsewhere, and the theme's a popular one, but this is still worth dishing up to readers whose appetites aren't sated by the likes of Lee Bennett Hopkins's Yummy! Eating Through a Day (2000) or William Cole's classic Poem Stew (1981). (Poetry. 7-10)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 22, 2003

These 15 tales are well-documented and authentic in terms of sources, basic plot, and so forth, but the telling is flat and stilted and the finale of each often seems forced and anti-climactic, ending rather unceremoniously. A Mexican flavor is strong throughout the collection. References to saints and religious topics reflect the heritage and culture, and occasional brilliant, hot watercolors add to sense of the setting. The themes of these tales range from foolishness ("The Mule Drivers Who Lost Their Feet") to brotherly rivalry ("Cinder Juan"). End notes providing information about the origin and collection of each add much information for the serious student of folklore. An interesting collection that will attract some readers because of the origin of the tales (and the usefulness of the origin notes) but the collection lacks the spice necessary to make it a first choice. (Folktales. 8+)Read full book review >
Released: March 24, 2003

Philip and Brent (Noah and the Devil, 2001, etc.) collaborate again to offer a lovely collection of prayers. Brent's exquisite hand illustrates this beautiful, small volume in the manner of medieval manuscripts. Finding its audience might be problematic, however. Philip, an indefatigable editor of anthologies for young people, has gathered selections from many religions and cultures, and divided them loosely into seven sections, each with its own border design. On facing pages, for example, are prayers from the Talmud, English and Breton traditions, and 19th-century Irish. They are all very short, and sometimes abbreviated, as in the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, where only the first half appears. Some, for English speakers, are deeply familiar: "Thank you for the world so sweet, / Thank you for the food we eat"; or Dickens's "God bless us every one!" Others seem scarcely to be prayers, like "Star light, star bright . . . I wish I may, I wish I might, / Have the wish I wish tonight." Still others, not so well-known, come from Hindu and Muslim traditions, from Africa, from Hawaii, from various Native American peoples. Gorgeous illuminations border each page with tendrils of flora, birds, fruit, flowers, and lavish use of gold. A lovely gift (Nonfiction. 7-11)Read full book review >
THE FISH IS ME by Neil Philip
Released: Sept. 23, 2002

A compilation of effervescent poems celebrate tub time. Philip's selections date from such early traditional rhymes as "Wash, hands, wash, / Daddy's gone to plow./ If you want your hands washed, / Have them washed now" through the late-20th century. Authors include Carl Sandburg, Valerie Bloom, Mark Burgess, Douglas Florian, and others as well as Philip himself. Whether loved or loathed, nightly ablutions are routine for nearly all children. The poems selected reflect the universality of this theme as it spans the generations. In Washing (circa 1929), John Drinkwater's lament "Please, what is all this washing about?" is echoed nearly 70 years later by Pauline Stewart: "Wash wash in the bath / even though I'm not dirty / If I keep on washing every day/ I'll be clean by the time I'm thirty."(Bath) Likewise, the sheer joy of a dunk in the tub is fervently celebrated in such poems as Bathtime and Water Everywhere. Henley's full-bleed illustrations capture the charisma and unique voice of each poem, while retaining that element of playfulness that is the essence of bathtime. Her children encompass many nationalities, reflecting the multicultural blend of the author's voices. A truly buoyant tribute to the family tub. (Poetry. 3-7)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

Using the same format as in his previous collections of Native American literature (A Braid of Lives, 2000, etc.), Philip pairs his 15 translations of various tribes' lullabies with sepia-toned historical photographs of Native Americans. The tribe of the lullaby and that of the individuals photographed are indicated on the elegantly laid-out pages—often the same tribe is depicted in both picture and word. An endnote gives a little background on lullabies in Native American cultures, and Philip describes the kind of liberties he allowed himself in his translation. While he has "tried not to transgress the spirit or the meaning of any of the source texts," he admits reworking some of the verses into a more recognizable form. They do become beautiful translations in our ears, but not necessarily ones that will be useful for learning about a tribe's art forms—though sophisticated researchers can follow Philip's sources, which are well-documented. As there is no music (nor discussion of music) here, it is also unlikely that parents would use this as a source for lullabies to sing to their children; nor will the design or text appeal to many children on a purely literary basis. Despite its potentially appealing subject, and obviously careful treatment and documentation, the readership for this title will be limited with children. For specialized collections or adult interest only. (Nonfiction. 8+)Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 17, 2001

Illustrated with Brent's (Celtic Fairytales, not reviewed, etc.) glorious, gold-drenched watercolors, Philip weaves a number of Romanian pourquoi tales into the biblical story of Noah and the ark. Gathering the animals two by two, Noah sees his wife hesitating. Indeed, she won't come on board until the water is up to her waist and Noah says angrily, "Oh, you devil, come in!" At that, the devil comes on to the ark in the form of a mouse. The mouse chews through a plank and water begins to leak into the ark, but Noah throws a fur glove at it, which turns into a cat that catches the mouse, and Noah throws them both overboard. The devil-as-mouse escapes and the cat comes back on board to dry itself in the warmest, sunniest spot, a habit that continues to this day. The origin of the flea is also neatly explained. Brent's resplendent ark is in the shape of a red and gold dove. It carries a storied house on its back with arched doors and windows and a patterned tile roof. The pages, bordered in jewel-toned folk-art patterns, hold pictures of voluptuous beauty, from naturalistic animal portraits to a sea resembling silk ribbon shot with luminous fish. Indeed, it is the shimmering art that transforms what is a somewhat less successful text into a worthy addition to the folklore shelves. (author's source note) (Folktale/picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
A BRAID OF LIVES by Neil Philip
Released: Aug. 21, 2000

Native American voices spanning a hundred years present a collective sense of childhood and a scope of individual experience. Similar in format to Philip's Earth Always Endures: Native American Poems (1996) and In a Sacred Manner I Live: Native American Wisdom (1997), this collection speaks more closely to a young audience in its subject matter. From the words of Charles A. Eastman and Sarah Winnemuca to the more contemporary voices of Louis Two Ravens Irwin and James Sewid, the narratives describe aspects of childhood life in many tribes. Subjects range from playing house and playing war to having hair cut at a boarding school and being buried alive in order to hide from white men. Like the previous collections, this is illustrated with archival photographs, printed in duotone, that are evocative, but overly romantic in tone. The fact that the experiences were recorded, in word or picture, almost entirely in the late-19th and early-20th centuries gives an overall sense of distance and of "The-Indian-of-the-Past" to this collection, although readers may find the narratives themselves immediate. Philip gives both English and actual names of people and tribes after each selection, as well as sources for all pictures and texts at the end of the volume. A bibliography of further reading and indexes of speakers, writers, and Indian nations enhance the collection. Wonderful words in a museum-quality package, readers may find their way slowly to this book, but they should find the trip worthwhile. (introduction, indexes, further reading, source notes) (Nonfiction. 10+)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 20, 1999

A collection of traditional folktales (from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, and Germany) that were Americanized by storytellers in the 19th century and early 20th century. Philip, working in a less formal style than American Fairy Tales (1996), includes a "Jack and the Beanstalk" from Kentucky, in which the boy is only retrieving his stolen belongings from the giant, "King Peacock," a Snow White variant from Louisiana, "Tobe Killed a Bear," a Missouri variant on part of the Beowulf story, and 13 more. The sources and variations of the stories appear at the end, where Philip also explains how much or little he has revised the tales, his reasoning, and which stories were reprinted untouched. Mair's full-color illustrations, deliberately invoking quilts and pictorial fabrics, suit the subject matter well. (further reading) (Folklore. 9-12) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 21, 1998

This startling and honest presentation of the horrors of war from Philip and McCurdy (American Fairy Tales, 1996, etc.) uses poems to thoughtfully balance the often romanticized vision of battle as an expression of bravery and honor. Terror, agony, mass slaughter, absurdity, pointlessness, and cruelty are the subjects of poets writing from ancient times to the present; there are also elegies for warriors, celebrating their brave deaths. Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, and Stephen Crane share pages with Anakreon and Simonides; there are contributors from Beirut and Bosnia, as well as from the death trains of WWII. Among McCurdy's somber and realistic black-and-white illustrations are dead soldiers hanging on barbed wire, and a lone soldier standing in a graveyard, holding his head as he says goodbye to those who have died on the fields. The book makes vivid humankind's innate darkness and makes war painful again. (indexes) (Poetry. 10-14) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

A lovely edition of tales that hearkens back to the stories' roots in oral telling and wordplay. Philip (In a Sacred Manner I Live, p. 1034, etc.) writes an introduction to these tales, describing in simple terms how the Grimms collected their material and worked it for publication, mentioning their lives as scholars of the German language. Making their customary appearances in the 20 stories are Rapunzel, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, and the Musicians of Bremen as well as lesser known characters, among them the Gold Children and Mother Snow. The selections have the rough edges of traditional folktales. Philip's attempts to capture the cadence of oral telling ranges from the colorful—``common or garden bright won't do. I want a real clever-clogs'' and ``he might as well have saved his breath to cool his porridge''—to the contemporary (and jarring) ``fine by me.'' Brent's illustrations, which consist of full-page, full- color images as well as pretty little vignettes to close most of the stories, are framed in patterns inspired by gothic architecture and illumination; every page has a delicate blue-and-gold edge. For collections that need yet one more Grimm, this is a good choice to hand to middle graders who are starting to think they are too old for fairy tales. (Folklore. 9-12) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 18, 1997

Carefully selected, sepia-toned archival photographs of Native Americans draw readers in with their haunting beauty, and reflect aspects of ancient stories. Philip, in what is essentially a companion book to Earth Always Endures (1996), offers a lovely book to browse, full of words that have been passed down, from elder to younger, in moving text and pictures, further supported by captions and notes. He covers almost four centuries of philosophical musings, from Chief Powhatan in 1609, to the contemporary Sioux medicine man Leonard Crow Dog in 1995, and in the process illustrates the harmony and tradition of Native American culture. The photographs make additional points: There is artistry in the tipis, with their bold scenes of horses in flight, and grace in the designs of the sand paintings. In such a meticulous gathering, traditional values and beliefs emerge for contemporary readers: To live in a sacred manner is to take pleasure in being alive in the moment and in the world. (Sepia photos, bibliography, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 10+) Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1997

Philip (American Fairy Tales, 1996, etc.) competently retells the famous Greek story of Odysseus's ten-year journey home from the Trojan War, beset by the wrath of Poseidon, various monsters, witches, and his own pride. Some changes have been made, e.g., the fleet is destroyed in a storm, not by the cannibalistic Laestrygonians, who are absent from this version. On the other hand, the Cyclops' killing and eating of several of Odysseus's men is described graphically enough to sate elementary-school bloodlust. What sets the book apart from the competition are the vivid, glowing illustrations. Malone uses stylized figures in archaic poses that seem to have been adapted from Greek vases; he employs brilliant colors and skewed perspectives to dramatic effect. With a beautiful map of the voyage and an illustrated guide to the principal characters, an already grand story has become a sumptuous visual feast. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 2, 1996

From the pair behind Singing America (1995), a gathering of a century's worth of stories that defy well-known European fairy tale conventions. In an impassioned afterword, Philip writes, ``One of the defining themes of the American fairy tale is this sense that ordinary life is something the fairy tale hero must learn to value and enjoy, rather than something from which he must escape.'' He includes works by writers such as L. Frank Baum, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott, as well as lesser-knowns (Ruth Plumly Thompson and the anonymous M.S.B., among them), who penetrated the heart of American culture by creating characters who relied on inner strength and discovery rather than other-worldly magic. Glass slippers, castles, and class differences aside, Washington Irving, Howard Pyle, and Carl Sandburg remythologized the traditional stories by asserting that the challenge and bounty of America provided more than enough setting and inspiration. Whether readers recall these stories from English classes or discover them anew, they will see in the texts the promise and potential of an untarnished America. McCurdy's precise black-and- white woodcuts perfectly capture the idiomatic spirit of stories from Kansas to Kalamazoo to Rootabaga Country, and help Philip make the case for the genre that other collections have danced around without naming, the American fairy tale. With a preface by Alison Lurie. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Paired with Curtis's classic photographs, these sacred chants capture the heartbeat of a people. An Apache prays ``for people to smile as long as I live''; a Yokuta, to be ``one with this world!''; and a Kiowa asks for universal charity—``Because I am poor,/I pray for every living creature.'' There are songs about birth and old age; songs for young warrior and those who yearn for their safe return; songs about living with joy (``The sky/loves to hear me'') and courage (``I am simply on the earth./Need I be afraid?''); and a powerful ode, composed during a Civil Warera massacre, about dying with dignity (``Nothing lives long/Nothing lives long/Nothing lives long/Only the earth and the mountains''). Philip (Odin's Family, p. 1054, etc.) arranges the selections—from a variety of traditions, among them Navajo, Pima, Chippewa, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Omaha, Passamaquoddy, Osage—in a circle, taking readers from dawn to dawn. Timeless poems, haunting photographs—a whole world to ponder. (Poetry. 10+) Read full book review >
ODIN'S FAMILY by Neil Philip
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

A retelling of Norse mythology, from creation to Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, including stories about Odin, Loki, Thor, and the giants of Jotunheim. Philip (Singing America, 1995, etc.) adds little that is new to the already considerable body of Norse myths available for young readers, but his competent retellings retain an elegant formality. A ``Who's Who'' puts the gods in their places, while the afterword contains interesting information about the Poetic and Prose Eddas, and about Christian influences and parallels. Foa's striking oil paintings have a look best described as somewhere between colored woodcuts and cave paintings; her unusual approach gives the book a quality of something ancient rediscovered, wholly appropriate to the subject. They make the book extraordinary. (further reading) (Folklore. 10+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

Some of Andersen's best-loved tales, perceptively introduced by Philip (The Snow Queen, 1989), who treats them as high literature, never forcing them into ready-made formulas. Grandly ornamental art-deco borders in gold and azure give the book a distinctively handsome appearance and frame illustrations obviously inspired by, and sometimes simply copied from, Gustav Klimt. The pictures tend to the mediocre: banal-looking animals, stiff people, and sketchy landscapes. The few that succeed—of swans rising above the water, or of an icy Snow Queen—have gorgeous ornamental backgrounds. For Philip's phrasing and presentation, this is a worthy volume; young listeners won't mind the pictures, and older readers will be too engrossed in the stories themselves to notice. (Fiction. 5+) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1995

An astounding array of poems about the American identity, representing the events and attitudes that have helped shape a unique history, by the compiler of Fairy Tales from Eastern Europe (1991). War, race, injustice, the American language and landscape all inspire deeply felt emotions, from fierce patriotism to fiery outrage. ``The Battle Hymn of the Republic'' co-exists with e.e. cummings' ``heroic happy dead.'' Walt Whitman sings America, and Langston Hughes, Ezra Pound, and Allen Ginsberg sing Walt Whitman. There's John Greenleaf Whittier's brave ``Barbara Frietchie,'' and Ogden Nash's Barbara Frietchie, who ``. . .scratched/When she was itchy.'' The selections are diverse, incisive, and crisply written; some feature McCurdy's sturdy images, carved in black against the white page, more decoration than scenery, and mutely leaving readers to fall upon the poems with their own interpretations intact. In art and word, the America that emerges is compelling in all its contradictions. (further reading, indices of first lines, titles, subject, and poets) (Poetry. 10-14) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 15, 1993

An intelligent new translation of all 11 stories, true to the original (the three verse tales have, sensibly, been rendered as prose, but the morals are in lively verse) and doubly welcome since the only other edition of merit in print (Dover, 1969, paper only) omits three of the tales. Simborowski is a translator and teacher; Philip, a well-regarded folklorist and critic, adds an introduction and extensive scholarly notes on the stories' predecessors and variants. There's also a fine note on ``Translating Perrault'' (``It is hard to convey in English...the splendid brevity...His distinctive wit and elegance are based in succinctness and economy. Many retellings...replace this asperity with a winsome, sentimental air that is entirely absent from the original...''), as well as a generously long bibliography. Holmes's delicate art—decorative grace-notes that occasionally blossom into full-blown illustrations, comfortably sharing a page with text or extending over a spread—are traditional in style, setting events in a comely time past. It's grand to have the real thing in such fine new dress—an essential reference for folklore collections, in attractive format that's sure to appeal to young readers. (Folklore. 5+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 28, 1991

Beginning with a brisk introduction concerning the unique aspects of Eastern European folklore, Philip (a British expert in folklore and children's literature) presents 22 stories told in a lively, colloquial style and ranging from brief Serbian creation myths to such long, formal tales as the familiar ``The Flying Ship,'' from the Ukraine. In a final section, Philip discusses the specific source for each story and cites others (often more familiar) with similar motifs. Wilkes provides an abundant number of watercolor and b&w illustrations; unfortunately, while some successfully depict a story's essence, others are way off the mark. Still, though the illustrations are uneven, the whole is pleasingly designed and carefully produced: a collection with high appeal both for children and those who enjoy sharing stories with them. Folklore. 10+) Read full book review >