Proving yet again that one’s childhood is an endless vein of gold for a writer to mine, I have an article at Atlas Obscura about Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls, a 70s-era children’s book that still haunts my dreams (and those of others, apparently):
It may seem counter-intuitive to mimic the hellscapes and grotesqueries of such paintings as The Garden of Earthly Delights or The Last Judgment for a children’s book, but the plan sure worked for John O’Brien. He’s the illustrator behind Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls, a 32-page picture book first published in 1977 by Random House. To this day, nostalgic readers still go online to enthuse about it.
This week is Children’s Literature Week at Atlas Obscura. When I first learned AO — a site devoted to the odd or forgotten that I’ve enthused about before — was hosting the theme, I immediately thought of O’Brien and Favorite Tales.
Turns out O’Brien lives and works very close to where I grew up in South Jersey, so it was easy to meet him at his studio. He’s an incredibly generous and funny man, everything you’d imagine a children’s illustrator to be, and it was wonderful to have my questions answered about a book that’s been lodged in my brain for more than thirty years (it was also fun to discover why the book is stuck in my brain). I wish I could’ve fit all of O’Brien’s stories into the article, stories about how he landed his first agent (it involved O’Brien acting as the alibi for a couple to meet for sex) and being a young artist in New York at a time when you could go through the white pages and call art directors on the phone.
So what youthful memories should I convert into cash next? How about an essay on selling old toys and action figures on eBay, or perhaps a digression on the symbolism of Disney World to my family?
Meantime, ICYMI, here’s me reminiscing about other childhood reading material.