A Holiday Gift You Can Start Selling Now

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 8th, 2009

I have been waiting to write this blog post since May, when we first saw the book, and now that it’s here, I finally can. Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies has finally hit the shelves, and it’s going to be a holiday gift-giving dynamo, certainly at The Flying Pig.

Every holiday season, we choose our go-to book, the must-have selection that parents and grandparents will love adding to the family library. (This year, we have three picks; the other two will be revealed in future posts.)

The book itself is lovely, with art by James McMullan, the noted children’s book illustrator (I Stink!) who also happens to have designed more than 75 posters for Lincoln Center. (I suppose this is what’s meant by an illustrious career. Ba-dum-bump.) The paintings are gentle and varied, and numerous; I believe Mr. McMullan said he surprised himself with this project, painting more watercolors than he thought possible in the time frame allotted for the project.

To choose the poems and songs, Ms. Andrews and daughter Emma Walton Hamilton sifted through hundreds of their own favorite verses. There are poems and songs from enduring favorite authors, accompanied by reminiscences of how and why they were chosen. Andrews herself (as well as a few family members) also wrote a number of the poems; she remains one of the scant handful of celebrity children’s book authors with a true gift for writing. “In our family, we write poems for each other as gifts,” Andrews says, and it’s partly this lifelong involvement with poetry and song that gives the book such a warm, personal feel.

During BEA, dozens of lucky booksellers had the pleasure of meeting all three creators and hearing them talk about the making of the book. The collaboration was clearly a happy one all the way around, and the mutual respect and affection between mother and daughter filled the room with joy.

Both Ms. Andrews and Ms. Hamilton are performers and brought their love of music and poetry, rhythm, cadence and theatre to the choices—the selections all make fantastic read-alouds. The hands-down highlight of the visit was hearing Ms. Andrews and Ms. Hamilton do just that: read poetry aloud to a room full of adults, all of whom became enchanted children for a few delicious moments. Their rendition of “The King’s Breakfast” by A.A. Milne was so funny and so brilliantly read aloud we would have stood up and cheered if we hadn’t been on our best behavior. Instead, we gave them a seated standing ovation.

Of course, we’re all familiar with Julie Andrews’ prodigious performance talent, but Ms. Hamilton was a revelation—hilarious and sharp and terrific with accents; she could give Jim Dale a run for his money in the audiobook world. Heads up, alert publishers.

Although it might be easy to lose one’s critical faculties in the wake of such a rare and special event, I’m happy to report that the book meets its promise in the cold clear light of a book buyer and poetry lover’s evaluation. The volume is organized into nine themes—All Things Bright and Beautiful, Accentuate the Positive, Growing Up, Bedtime Blessing, Talk to the Animals, Sea Fever, Laughing Song, Leisure, and The Wonderful World—and the selections are worthy of a family’s repeated readings over many years. Perhaps best of all, the book includes a CD of Ms. Andrews and/or Ms. Hamilton reading 21 poems on the accompanying CD. This is definitely one that booksellers can recommend without reservation.

Thank you, Hachette, not only for the lovely book, but for one of the shining experiences in my life as a bookseller: the chance to meet—no, not the actress Julie Andrews, but the author of my favorite book growing up, The Last of the Really Whangdoodles. I brought my sacred, battered, cocoa-speckled, jacketless copy (at right)—which has moved with me from Arizona to California to New York City to Vermont—and I managed to find a quiet moment to ask for her signature. With her characteristic graciousness, she agreed, holding the book and looking at it for a long moment, as though seeing an old friend after many years. As we chatted, she leafed through the pages (several with their corners torn off; I’m afraid I nibbled them at tense moments of the story) with an expression I couldn’t quite interpret, but seemed nostalgic and deeply thoughtful. Perhaps she was revisiting the early days of the book, and thinking about having written something so long ago that readers still treasure more than 30 years later. 

I suspect that with this new collection, she has done it again.

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