7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #793: Featuring
The Art of Alice & Martin Provensen
and The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales

h1 May 8th, 2022 by jules

Martin and Alice Provensen
(Click image to enlarge)


I’m goin’ vintage today, you all. If you are fond of reading about picture books, illustration, the history of children’s literature, and (especially) the work of illustrators Alice and Martin Provensen (pictured above), I have two books here at 7-Imp today that will certainly pique your interest — each superb, spectacularly detailed, and lovingly designed.


(Click cover to enlarge)


The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen arrived on shelves in March of this year (Chronicle Books) and is a comprehensive look at the art and lives of the husband-and-wife illustration team who created more than 50 beautifully crafted books from 1947 to 1987. (The book also covers the time period in which Alice worked alone after Martin’s death. Incidentally, readers learn that she went after her bachelor’s degree at the age of 80. Badass.) This remarkable book includes a Q&A with personal reflections from Karen Provensen Mitchell, their daughter (and closes with her tender, touching epiloque), and Robert Gottlieb, a family friend. Leonard Marcus, children’s book historian extraordinaire, also contributes an essay (in which, among many other things, he emphasizes the incredible amount of research that went into their books). The book is filled with full-color paintings from many of their books and also includes some paintings, drawings, and sketches that have never been seen before. Also included are photos of them at their home, Maple Hill Farm in Dutchess County, New York; some of the couple’s travel sketches; excerpts from interviews with them; their 1984 Caldecott Medal acceptance speech; and more. It’s a thing of beauty, this one.


A travel sketch
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From an unpublished book dummy
(for “a book about people who looked like the animals they owned”)

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From Margaret Wise Brown’s The Color Kittens, 1949
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“We thought of ourselves as one artist illustrating,” Alice once said. Through the Q&A with their daughter (a delightfully detailed look back at her childhood and her parents’ work) and quotes from the couple included throughout the book, readers learn how and when the Provensens met (Walter Lanz Productions in Los Angeles, where Alice was working as an animator and Martin was sent by the navy to work on a military training film project) and the trajectory of their lives and careers as, first, animators and then children’s book illustrators. I must add: Those interested in animation — as well as comics and typography — will find much to love about a 1985 essay or lecture of some sort (I can’t tell its origins) from the Provensens, published by the American Library Association, in which they discuss their work as animators and the influence of comics in their lives.


From James Beard’s The Fireside Cook Book, 1949
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From Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1951
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From The Animal Fair, 1952
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The Provensens’ first book, The Fireside Book of Folk Songs, was published in 1947 after they chose to leave the animation business. They drew, Karen shares in the Q&A, over 500 illustrations for it. The following year they illustrated their first Little Golden Book, Mr. Noah and His Family. 1952 marked the first book they both wrote and illustrated, The Animal Fair. Their illustrations for Nancy Willard’s A Visit to William Blake’s Inn won them a Caldecott Honor; the book itself made history by becoming the first picture book to receive the Newbery Award. In 1984, they won Caldecott gold with The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, which they both wrote and illustrated. In their Caldecott acceptance speech, printed in the book, they state:

We like pictures that are a little clumsy, a little rough and lacking in finish. Children’s drawings seem to us to be marvelous. If only we could draw like that. We draw and paint to express our joy and excitement in life and to communicate our feelings to children in the most direct and effective way.


(Click cover to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


Many other moments in the book reveal how it is that the couple thought about their work (as well as the question they were asked so often, how do you work together?). In the Q&A with Karen, she shares something Alice once wrote: “Rather than impose our personal style, if we had one, on a given book, Martin and I always sought to enhance the spirit of the book, and to reflect the intention of its author as far as we understood it. Unlike artists who impose their own style on every manuscript, we let the manuscript impose the style on us.”


From The Iliad and the Odyssey, 1956
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From Shakespeare: Ten Great Plays, 1962
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And speaking of their work, those who know they drew the original Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s (a side job, Karen explains, as they were illustrating Golden Books) might be surprised to learn that they were, as Karen shares it, “initially paid a modest flat fee, and the joke throughout my childhood was that we’d be rich if only they were paid one cent for every box of Frosted Flakes ever sold.”


Early study for Leonardo Da Vinci, 1984
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From Alice’s Punch in New York, 1991
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If you’re interested in this treasure trove of a book, you might also be interested to know that last year (November) The New York Review Children’s Collection rereleased The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales (out of print for decades), as compiled and illustrated by the Provensens in 1971. This is, as Joan Bodger notes in the book’s original foreword, a collection of literary tales: “The literary tale borrows shamelessly from the folk tale but gives it a new twist or dimension.” Within are stories from Henry Beston, Hans Christian Andersen, Arthur Rackham, Seumas MacManus, Ruth Manning-Sanders, Elinor Mordaunt, Parker Fillmore, A.A. Milne, Barbara Leonie Picard, Howard Pyle, Katharine Pyle, and Oscar Wilde. Thanks to this, new generations of readers will be exposed to the dynamic, atmospheric illustrations within. Here is a sample of them:


From Henry Beston’s “The Lost Half-Hour”: “Lumbering heavily along like a monstrous turtle, and snorting blue smoke, the dragon was advancing toward her.”
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From Arthur Rackham’s “Beauty and the Beast”: “About the middle of the day she found a table laid ready for her, and sweet music was played all the time she was dining, although she could not see anybody.”
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From Parker Fillmore’s “The Forest Bride”:
“‘I never heard of a mouse that could weave.'”
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(Click cover to enlarge)


THE ART OF ALICE & MARTIN PROVENSEN. © 2021 Chronicle Books LLC. All images reproduced by permission of Chronicle Chroma, an imprint of Chronicle Books, Los Angeles, California.

THE PROVENSEN BOOK OF FAIRY TALES. Copyright © 2021 by the Alice Provensen Trust. Published by the New York Review Children’s Collection, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

1) I had the privilege of turning 50 this week and …

2) … had homemade chocolate torte with raspberry whipped cream.

3) And one of my birthday wishes came true:



I feel like I especially need this after the Supreme Court news this week.

4) The very end of episode 8 of Our Flag Means Death.

5) Neko Case’s new retrospective album, Wild Creatures. Neko forever.

6) The 300 songs of Bowen Yang’s and Matt Rogers’s Great Global Songbook at Las Culturistas. I have never been so entertained.

7) I really love a lot about this tender piece of writing from author-illustrator Elisha Cooper.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

5 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #793: Featuring
The Art of Alice & Martin Provensen
and The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales

  1. Jules so interesting for me to see this book and to know the illustrations more from the books they illustrated and not their names. The Elisha Cooper piece was poignant

    Hooray for turning 50 and being nifty!
    My kicks (Ala Little Willow style ):
    1. Sunbreaks.
    2. Plans.
    3. Buster.
    4. Family.
    5. Friends.
    6. Reading.
    7. Creating.
    Have a great week.

  2. Love this post and the illustrations and excerpts.

    Happy happy birthday Jules! Fifty is really one of the best birthdays. Hooray for homemade chocolate torte with raspberry whipped cream, good books, and so stoked you like Our Flag Means Death. Taika is such an amazing creator.

    Jone – Buster, sunbreaks, plans and family – all sounds like a great week.

    My kicks this week:
    1) Elizabeth Warren spontaneously going to speak with protestors in front of the Supreme Court.
    2) Knowing so many women who are fired up and ready to go for this fight, despite also being angry, tired, annoyed, that we are here again.
    3) Being able to find idiotic little things to laugh at while the news is so bad.
    4) Thinking about and laughing over a pratfall multiple times days after seeing it on an old tv show.
    5) Thoughtful criticism on pop culture and the intersection with the current politics by the first Black person to curate an exhibit at the Guggenheim(I sent this to Lainey Gossip and was thrilled when she posted it) https://www.instagram.com/p/CdHgb0aMVrr/?utm_source=ig_embed&ig_rid=cc8c22cb-e4fc-4618-b22f-880292ab73df
    6) The Linda Lindas have a new video and it was directed by Elizabeth Ito, creator of City of Ghosts. Love those young punk girls.
    7) Kate McKinnon on Weekend Update last night. Spot on and so funny.
    7.5) Sweet Daisy snuggles on a cold, rainy day.

    Have a great week, Imps!

  3. Hi Imps!

    Happy belated birthday, Jules! I hope you had a fantastic day. I love that first black-and-white picture. The candid-yet-posed aspect, the energy, all of it. And, unsurprisngly, the illustration of the cats is my favorite illustration of the batch.

    Jone: Nice!! Hi Buster! 🙂

    Rachel: Finding joy is so important. Hi Daisy!

    My kicks:
    1) Opportunities
    2) Sharing
    3) Resting
    4) Critical thinking
    5) Catching up
    6) Stay
    7) Smiling

  4. Jone, I like the word sunbreak. I think I need more of them.

    Rachel, I am nodding my head to your second and third kicks. Did you know that my half-sister and I are cursed in that, if we see a pratfall, we absolutely. lose. it.? I mean, as long as the person is not hurt. This is a real problem for me. Also, if I fall on my ass, I also can’t stop laughing at my own self. … YES TO KATE! And now I must look up the new Linda Lindas tune. Thanks for the heads-up.

    Little Willow, here’s to opportunities.

    Have a good week, you all!

  5. Little Willow – love sharing, catching up and smiling.

    Jules – there is a pratfall in the first 34 seconds of this video:

    Its not the one that was cracking me up, but same show. They get into some ridiculous shenanigans (some of the comedy hasn’t aged well, but a lot of it is still funny.)

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