The Amazing Ed Emberley

The first book I have seen by Ed Emberley was Make a world. It was the 2007 edition (originally 1972). The book was hidden on a bookshelf, between other few others coloring titles, in a very small bookstore in Barcelona. I immediately loved it.

Pages from Make a world from Cartoonstudies.org

Emberley, American artist and illustrator of picture books, published about seventy books. He won the Caldecott Medal in 1967 and 1968. Through the years I have learned a lot about his books, I bought some of them or I just added them to my never-ending wishlist.

Through the years, I have run into many other Emberley’s illustrations and books. As far as I know none of them has been published in Italy (if I am wrong do let me know!) and I always had to search for them abroad. I loved his way of reducing complexity, of drawing things with lines and colors. His illustrations are an interesting exercise of simplification: you can easily draw a fox using few lines.

What I did not expect was to discover another masterpiece called Emberley’s Amazing look-through book.

Bologna book fair, every year, provides me with some special project to work on. This year, this book project came by plane in Miguel Gouveia’s lugguage. Miguel is one of the founder and director of the Portuguese publishing house Bruaá. He told me he had something to share with me before the fair, something very special and unique. This book:

Emberley published the Amazing look-through book in 1979 under Little, Brown Co. It is an example of how he has always been on a look for a new form, both in terms of style and in terms of reading processes.

If reading is a complex activity that includes sight, ears and hands, in this case Emberley adds an unexpected interactive element to it. The paper has a consistency, a transparency, a physical presence that is inseparable from the text and illustrations. I found books with holes, with gatefolds, with transparent pages, with different shapes and cuts. This is a book to read through the pages, using light, using hands. The re-edition will require a meticulous work to select the right paper and to properly balance the color, thus respecting Emberley’s original project.

On the same philological line another publisher, Ammo books, is going to launch within a few weeks another masterpiece: The wing on a flea, the very first children book by Emberley. Published in 1961, it has been immediately declared one of the best ten books by The New York Times, and an ALA (American Library Association) Notable Book.

If this is not enough, two more of Emberley’s books will also be republished soon. One wide river to cross was originally released in 1967 by Prentice-Hall and has been realized in collaboration with his wife Barbara. It won a Caldecott Medal.

The original cover from the first edition. Source: Peacheskeen.com

Barbara also wrote The story of Paul Bunyan was written which tells the story of a giant, Paul, whois one of the most beloved and well-known myths of the American folklore.

I must admit that I always met Paul Bunyan only in the Disney’s cartoon from 1958. He is always accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox and he appears in movies and sketches on TV, newspapers and ads in the US. Take a look on Google and you will see.

But this is just a part of Emberley’s work. Ammo is also republishing some of his books, thanks to a collaboration with Rebecca, Emberley’s daughter. In the meantime you can study everything about his works and life by ordering the monograph published by Ammo in 2014; 288 pages of beauty, by Ed Emberley, Todd Oldham, and Caleb Neelon.


Originally published at www.phileasfoggagency.com.