Monday, June 7, 2010


LAST WEEK I WROTE about William Maxwell's children's book The Heavenly Tenants illustrated by Ilonka Karasz, and also discussed Ilonka Karasz's work as a mapmaker. Karasz's career is so broad and prolific an entire blog could be dedicated to it. For now, as I've previously mentioned, the best overview of her career can be found in Enchanting Modern: Ilonka Karasz by Ashley Callahan. I want to take this opportunity to highlight two additional books illustrated by Karasz, both inadvertently about Christmas: The Twelve Days of Christmas and Merry Christmas, Happy New Year by Phyllis McGinley.

From The New York Times review by Ellen Lewis Buell:

One of the most beautiful books of the year is "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Here Ilonka Karasz has set the verses of that lovely old carol against twelve pictures which combine modern technique with the exuberance of the medieval tradition...It is a miracle of design and imagination.

Karasz chose to include The Twelve Days of Christmas in the annual exhibition held by the Book Jacket Designers Guild in 1949. And the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) selected it that year as one of the "Fifty Books of the Year."

To see the rest of the art for The Twelve Days of Christmas visit my Flickr set here.

PHYLLIS MCGINLEY (1905-1978) was a children's author and poet considered one of the best American writers of light verse in the twentieth century, on par with Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker. Her poems appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Evening Post, and many others. Her 1949 children's book All Around the Town illustrated by Helen Stone was a Caldecott Honor book, and her 1957 children's book The Year Without a Santa Claus inspired the 1974 TV classic of the same name. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades. And she appeared on the cover of the June 18, 1965 issue of Time magazine where it was said that
Phyllis McGinley's appeal can best be measured by the fact that today, almost by inadvertence, she finds herself the sturdiest exponent of the glory of housewifery, standing almost alone against a rising chorus of voices summoning women away from the hearth.
(She also accepts an invitation to The White House by President Lyndon Johnson in the same article.)

In 1958, Phyllis McGinley released a collection of her Christmas poems (and one essay about New Year's) as Merry Christmas, Happy New Year with decorations by Ilonka Karasz.

In the first poem in the book (after the brilliant Greeting Card for Bibliophiles), McGinley turns her wry sense of humor to the twelve days of Christmas, giving Karasz an opportunity to revisit the same material from her own Christmas book.

For the rest of the art from Merry Christmas, Happy New Year (and especially to read the aforementioned Greeting Card for Bibliophiles), see my Flickr set here.

AND TO WRAP UP my discussion of Ilonka Karasz, as is inevitable in any discussion of Ilonka Karasz, I present some New Yorker covers.

First, an instance of personal plagiarism:

Karasz's 1946 cover for The Heavenly Tenants.

September 20, 1947

March 28, 1953

And while we're on convergences, a wholly accidental children's book convergence:

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.


  1. I enjoyed this post. I loved Phyllis McGinley's The Plain Princess (1945) with illustrations by Helen Stone. I've seen Stone's illustrations in other books but I don't know anything about her. I know I have some of McGinley's other children's books but I'm blanking on the titles. She wrote some delightful ones but they have fallen thoroughly out of print. I'm not sure why... Thank you for this blog. I love reading it!

  2. What a wonderful post - thank you so much for introducing me to Phyllis' work.