Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Owls, Baby!

Martin Waddell's board book Owl Babies was a hit in our house, back in the day. When my son outgrew it, we moved on to Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home. Like everything Lobel wrote for young readers, it's deceptively simple, amazingly deep, and repays endless reading. We had the audiotape of Lobel reading Frog and Toad in the car for almost two solid years, and even when we finally moved on, I wasn't really tired of it, and we still quote from it. ("Hello, Lunch!")

When I was very small, I would stare and stare at the color plates of owls in my mother's vintage bird guide--I found them hypnotic, especially the image of the Barred Owl. So last year I was thrilled to actually have a saw-whet owl perch on my shoulder at a live raptor show. It was such a little personage. As William Service said of his pet owl, "size of a beer can, personality of a bank president." That just about sums it up. Owl is a great read in the "we had an exotic pet" genre of which I never tire. I am sorry to report that owls don't, like cats, smell like freshly laundered towels. Beaks must not be as good a clothes brush  as a raspy tongue. But having the owl on my shoulder was an amazing experience.

So I was delighted to be sent by a birding friend this link to a live webcam of the nest box of a mother barn owl named Mollie. At last count there were three chicks and one egg  yet unhatched. Molly (her mate is McGee) spends a lot of time preening, adjusting the chicks under her brood patch, tidying the nest box, etc. She is really cutting in to my productivity, I have to say. And as my mother said when I sent her the link, "How am I supposed to get anything done when I have to watch the owl?"

But in fact I think that watching the owl is rather good for me. Some things on the internet are time-wasters, but I don't think spending a few moments living vicariously at the pace of a brooding owl is bad for me.

Anyway, I think there are a few more days before the chicks in Molly's nest become quite as fluffy and filled out as these fine fellows on the cover of Waddell's book. If you're lucky, you might get to watch their sire, McGee, deliver a mouse to the nest box.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Website is back

I pulled anndowner.com off the intertubes late last year, because it seemed silly to pay even a modest amount for web hosting when I didn't have a new book out and there was always this blog, for anyone who wanted to find me.

But I'm on a fiction panel at Smith next week, and handing out my calling card, so it seemed best to put it up--woefully out of date as it is.

Hope to be able to refresh it soon with news of current projects.

Monday, March 15, 2010

All About Alice

I went to see the Tim Burton "Alice" in Underland with my 10-year-old this weekend and found it a pleasant surprise. After the reviews, I had been prepared for disappointment. Indeed, I did take the reviewers' points that it seemed visually a little derivative for the usually highly original Burton--when Alice dons armor to ride the Bandersnatch, there is an echo of the recent Narnia films, and the White Queen's palace seems bought when the bank foreclosed on Elrond. But I came away from it with the sense of having watched some studio players in a really great B movie made on some leftover sets on a backlot. Everyone seems to be having a great time, and no one more so than Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. She gets all the great lines and the scene of her dressing down the frog footmen is worth the price of admission.

A lot of Alice in the air because of this movie. A nice roundup by columnist Neal Wyatt over at Library Journal, highlighting a shelf-full of takes on Wonderland, including the anthology, Alice Redux, from Paycock Press, in which I have my own story, "Bread and Butterflies," about a grown Alice Liddell in India. The ones I most want to read for myself are Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot and Automated Alice by Jeff Noon. When my son is done with his current book I might interest him in the Looking Glass Wars series by Frank Beddor, but not before we read the original, possibly the Annotated Alice or the one illustrated by Barry Moser from Pennyroyal Press. Lewis Carroll is the right white rabbit to lead you into Wonderland, whichever mirror-shard vesion of it you choose to explore.

My own encounter with Alice, in the Manila of my childhood (its own wonderland), was a Disney LP played on a record player--fairly faithful to the Lewis Carrol text, as I recall, but set to the Nutcracker Suite, so that I can never hear that music without thinking of Alice down the rabbit hole. I've come back to Alice over and over since then--during a summer in Oxford, and an internship at Barry Moser's letterpress in college.

The good folks at Much Ado Books in the UK sent me an email about this marvelous limited edition Alice with illustrations by John Vernon Lord, whose work first came to my attention in the classic picture book, The Giant Jam Sandwich. Lord brings to Lewis Carroll's universe his own loopy brand of technicolor dementia--Monty Python by way of Tom Phillips--with just enough of an edge to it to be a little unsettling.

I have never seen Lord's other illustration work (including, intriguingly, the Icelandic sagas), but the glimpse of his Alice illustrations online is making me wish I had the equivalent of £ 260.00 to spend on a copy. I am curious to know whether JVL tackled the famous "Wasp in a Wig" chapter that John Tenniel insisted be cut from the book's first edition, on the grounds that it was impossible to illustrate. Given his experience with wasps in The Giant Jam Sandwich, I am sure Lord would be more than up to the task.