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Friday, March 4, 2011

Blown Away: Salley Mavor's Fabulous Art

Post By Carol Baicker-McKee

Our March theme is "Blown Away" which is exactly what I was by this stunning nursery rhyme collection, A Pocketful of Posies, by one of my favorite illustrators, Salley Mavor.

I often give a book of nursery rhymes as my standard new baby gift. I know from my professional work as a child psychologist that exposure to nursery rhymes has a powerful effect on later reading skills (see, for example, this very readable review of some of the research on rhymes and "phonemic awareness"). Perhaps even more importantly, I know from my experiences as a mom and a former day care and preschool teacher, that cuddling up with a good book of rhymes has strong emotional benefits for both kids and caregivers.

There are several things that make this collection stand out from the dozens of options available:

Little Miss Muffet from A Pocketful of Posies by Salley Mavor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)
The Artwork It's hard for me to come up with enough superlatives for Mavor's unique fabric-relief and found object illustrations. It took her three years to do the art for this book and it shows. From the intricately embroidered endpapers to the clever use of found and recycled materials to make objects (for example, on one page alone - p. 15 - Mavor has constructed the following from different sizes and types of seashells: a washtub, an easy chair, a bouquet of flowers and a royal scepter), Mavor's creativity, craftsmanship and attention to deail are mind boggling. The artwork is also remarkable for the range of emotion she coaxes from the expressions she paints on the wooden beads she uses for heads and the carefully posed bodies made from, among other materials, chenille stems. (Incidentally, Mavor is an exceptionally generous artist who provides much how-to information in blog posts and a book, Felt Wee Folk.)

What's also remarkable about the artwork is how it appeals to a huge age range. Even young infants are attracted to the crisply photographed 3-D images and bright colors, older babies are drawn to the textures and sense of action, and toddlers on up through adults can not get enough of the detail.

Tree detail from A Pocketful of Posies by Salley Mavor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)
Rhyme Selection Mavor included a broad range of rhymes, from the most familiar classics like "Jack and Jill" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to less common ones like "A Wise Old Owl" and "One Misty Moisty Morning" to others I'd never even heard before, like "To Bed, To Bed, Says Sleepyhead" and "Go to Bed First, A Golden Purse." There are rhymes for a good many of the experiences a young child would have, and I can easily imagine how easy it would be to recite just the right rhyme garnered from this collection as a child helped a parent with laundry, sat down to eat, or got ready for bed.

Organization Often the order of rhymes in a Mother Goose collection seems arbitrary. But Mavor has arranged the rhymes overall to follow the rhythms of a child's day from waking up and doing chores through playtime and sleep. This arrangement not only gives the book a sense of "story" but makes it easy for a parent to read just a few rhymes to suit the moment's activity when there isn't time for a longer story session. Mavor's also grouped rhymes on similar topics together, so that the illustrations for different rhymes blend seamlessly into a single scene, and children are subtly exposed to the concepts of repetition and variation on a theme.

I hope you'll be blown away by this book too. If you liked this book, you'll want to check out Mavor's website and frequently updated blog, as well as her other books, some of which I've pictured below:

Totally love this fabulous book of rhymes.

This was a Horn Book selection.

 Short and sweet text - and art that creates a warm and a cozy home and  features a child of color.

Totally excellent craft book.

Sadly, many of these books are not currently in print, so you may be limited to buying used copies or borrowing them from the library. But you can keep an eye on the availability of all of Mavor's books on her Amazon page here.


  1. Oh my gosh - all her pages are such beautiful works of art! Love them! You can almost feel the softness of the felt. I'll link to this post. :)
    Thank you for introducing her books, website and blog to me. I can't believe I've never come across them until now. I'm excited and definitely "blown away"!

  2. Wow, the illustrations are amazing. I can't wait to check out one of her books on our weekly trip to the library. Thanks for the suggestions.