Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy Holidays From Abbeville!

From Gift Baskets for All Seasons

As December nears its end, we thought we’d take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy holiday season. Take care and make merry!

P.S. There’s only one shopping day left ’til Christmas, so if you’re looking for a last-minute gift, now’s the time to rush-order a gorgeous Abbeville Press volume. You might try one of our recent releases: Fine Bonsai, Renaissance Intarsia, Greek and Roman Mosaics, Alphabet Everywhere…(Both Intarsia and Mosaics were selected by the New York Times this year for its Holiday Gift Guide.) Or a title from our backlist: something festive, like Gift Baskets for All Seasons; or heartwarming, like Norman Rockwell’s Faith of America; or kid-friendly, like our Dinosaurs series or Everett, the Incredibly Helpful Helper. We won’t lie: if you order now, it probably won’t get there tomorrow. But if the gift is an Abbeville book, your relatives will forgive you. Enjoy!

Cats, Dogs, and Elephants, Oh My: More From Abbeville Kids

…CONDO! No, just kidding. If you didn’t guess “cage,” we congratulate you on being able to read this sentence.

Easy as this kind of guessing game may be for adults, it’s just the ticket for building reading comprehension skills in younger readers. Throughout Abbeville’s Big Cat, Small Cat, written and illustrated by Ami Rubinger (and translated from the Hebrew by Ray Baitner), the rhyme scheme sets up word predictions that encourage kids to interact with the text. Equally inviting are Rubinger’s charming illustrations; our own favorite is the picture of the “bad cat,” who looks like a cross between the Devil and the Los Alamos bomb tests.

Rubinger’s follow-up volume, I Dream of an Elephant, works in a similar fashion, teaching children about colors by encouraging them to chime in with a missing color-word at the end of each couplet. (We know what you’re thinking: what did we rhyme with “orange”? The answer is: “four-inch doorhinge.” Think we’re lying? Well, maybe so; buy the book and find out.) The third volume in the series, Dog Number 1, Dog Number 10 (English text by series editor Cynthia Vance), helps build both early reading skills and early counting skills by rhyming with the numbers between 1 and 10. (“Playing chase is so much fun! / My name’s Rover. I’m dog number…”)

As you may have guessed from the previous examples, the name of the game for Abbeville Kids books is interactivity. We’ve continued that theme in our latest picture book, Alphabet Everywhere, with photography by Elliott Kaufman. The book depicts each letter of the alphabet through multiple images, each created by the intersection of architectural details, shadows, light, or natural elements as caught by Kaufman’s eagle eye. Some letter “cameos” are obvious, while others take a little more imagination to recognize. The result is a quirky little gallery that heightens little ones’ observational skills, helping them not only to read, but to see the world around them with fresh eyes. K?

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Click here to purchase Alphabet Everywhere, published by Abbeville Press.

The Art of RAWR!: Abbeville Press Loves Dinosaurs

If you discovered a new kind of dinosaur, what would you do? Call up all your friends from first grade and brag? Do a T-Rex dance in front of your mirror? Or maybe write a children’s book?

After paleobiologist Marco Signori discovered the specimen Scipionyx during the course of a distinguished career, he decided to collaborate with illustrator Mattheo Bacchin on a comic book series designed to bring the age of the dinosaurs to life. The resulting six-volume series, Dinosaurs, was first published in Italy and brought to the U.S. in 2008 by Abbeville Press. The series’ titles include A Jurassic Mystery: Archaeopteryx, The Journey: Plateosaurus, The Hunting Pack: Allosaurus, Giant vs. Giant: Argentinosaurus, T. Rex and the Great Extinction, and Growing Up in the Cretaceous: Scipionyx, which tells the story behind Signori’s own specimen.

Scipionyx

Charming, action-packed, and just plain cool, each comic also features short essays that explain more about the dinos and geographical settings featured in the story.

And Abbeville’s commitment to celebrating the awesomeness (in every sense) of dinosaurs does not end there. Two years ago we released Sara Ball and Britta Drehsen’s Flip-o-saurus, an interactive board book that allows younger readers to mix and match dino heads, midsections, and hindquarters like mad paleontologists. If you’re still at the age where this kind of activity appeals to you–i.e., older than six months and younger than 110–you can check out a fun online preview of Flip-o-saurus, in Flash game form, on Abbeville.com.

In conclusion: RAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWR!

Excuse us, we couldn’t help ourselves.

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Click here to purchase a copy of Flip-o-saurus. Click here to check out the Dinosaurs series on Abbeville.com.

Q&A With Robert McCabe, Pt. 3: Favorite Photographs

Robert McCabe is a celebrated photographer whose most recent exhibition took place in Corfu, Greece. This week he selected some of his favorite shots from his two Abbeville Press books, The Ramble in Central Park and Weekend in Havana.

Q. What are some of your favorite shots from The Ramble in Central Park?

A: P 31 Reflections in the Lake. I got inspired by the reflections in the lake several times and there are a couple of others included in the book. The success of these reflection photos depends on what was in the foreground, what was reflected, and how the light fell on all the components. One could do whole book of them!
P 66 The Oven. I like the sense of tranquility and the distance from the bustle of the city. The only link is the Times.
P 81. Fall Wedding. Luck plays an important role in photography. This was one of those lucky shots where all the players are visible and doing what they are supposed to be doing. If they had been my models and I had taken 1000 shots I doubt I would have gotten one as good.
P 109 Winter near Azalea Pond. This spot is exceptionally photogenic. And I picked the winter scene just because it’s rarer. There are other shots in the book of this spot in the fall.
P 118 A tranquil spot on the banks of the Gill. When I see this I think to myself, no one will believe this exists in New York.

Q. How about from Weekend in Havana?

A: P 87 The Man. The Bronze. The communist bronze ideal juxtaposed against the lanky human reality. But there are structural similarities which make the two figures seem related.
P 103 School pals. The sense of two children in rapport is strong in this–something difficult to capture in images. I have a series of the two of them together.
P 114 Woman and her dog. The color palette I like, as well as the sense of the emotional attachment between the woman and her dog.
P 119 The Three Graces. A lucky shot, with everyone in exactly the right position.
P 125 Toy vendor. This summarizes some of the heartbreak of Havana–no toys for children except these handmade “toys,” and the sadness of the maker.
P 137 Untitled. The local and foreign visitor. The positions and expressions speak 10,000 words.

Q. Tell us about your most recent work, including your recent exhibition in Corfu?

A. I am currently working on two books relating to Greece. This year I had the opportunity to photograph in a number of Greek islands that have beautiful topography, including Ithaca and Patmos.

I have an exhibition in progress now on the island of Corfu. It is titled “China Greece–Ancient Peoples, Changing Worlds.” It is in the Old Palace in Corfu, which is now the Museum of Asian Art. It consists of 40 color photographs of Greece in the 1950s and ’60s and 45 color photos of China in 2006. There are in addition 25 black and white photos of Greece in the 1950s. The venue is the most beautiful in Greece, and the island certainly one of the most beautiful and pleasant. So I hope you will try to visit before the May 12 closing date.

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Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of The Ramble in Central Park, published by Abbeville Press.

Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of Weekend in Havana, published by Abbeville Press.

Q&A With Robert McCabe, Pt. 2: Weekend in Havana

For Part 2 of our Q&A with noted photographer Robert McCabe, we asked about the experiences surrounding his first book with Abbeville Press, Weekend in Havana: An American Photographer in the Forbidden City. Published in 2007 in a trilingual edition featuring English, Spanish, and Greek, the book is a moving photographic celebration of Havana and its people. McCabe shared his recollections of the project’s origins and reflected on the slow change that has come to Cuba in recent years.

Q. How were you able to gain entry to the country to conduct your photographic campaign, and what was your experience like as a photographer there?

A. I was unexpectedly in Havana on a friend’s boat. We hadn’t planned to go but when we learned that we could visit Cuba as Americans as long as we didn’t spend any money the decision was easy. I didn’t even have a camera with me so I borrowed our daughter’s Nikon with its unusual Macro lens which she uses for archaeological photography. But it was perfect for street photography. What attracted me was the fact there were few tourists and we were getting a glimpse of the real Havana under Fidel Castro’s brand of communism. People were earning $20 to $30 a month. (They still are.) Many basics were rationed. While no one stopped me from taking photos, a local photographer was sentenced to 26 years in jail for sending unflattering photos out of Cuba. Most people welcomed my taking photos of them. The notable exception was a man covered in oil working under the hood of his car. I couldn’t blame him.

The owner of the boat I was on told the port authorities that we could only visit Havana if they would allow us to dock in Old Havana. If we had gone to the Marina we would have had to spend money on transportation into Havana. So they agreed and we ate and slept on the boat, and simply walked around the city. We had a berth on a renovated pier right at the edge of the old city.

Q. How have the politics and social climate of the country changed in recent decades?

A. Fidel has retired, but the regime is still harsh with dissidents. Entrepreneurs have many more opportunities now and can earn decent money if they can find a position in the tourist industry.

Things have opened up now and many U.S. groups go to Cuba on study tours. There are many many tourists from Europe and Canada.

Q. I was struck by the graffito in one of your photographs that translates as “Here, we don’t want masters.” How would you interpret this?

A. I am afraid the “Here, we don’t want masters” was a pure propaganda slogan put up by the government.

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Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of Weekend in Havana, published by Abbeville Press.

Q&A With Robert McCabe, Pt. 1: The Ramble in Central Park

Robert McCabe is a photographer whose numerous books include The Ramble in Central Park: A Wilderness West of Fifth (Abbeville, 2011), Weekend in Havana: An American Photographer in the Forbidden City (Abbeville, 2007), DeepFreeze! A Photographer’s Antarctic Odyssey in the Year 1959, and On the Road with a Rollei in the ’50s. His photographs have been exhibited in the United States, France, and Greece, including most recently in Corfu, and have appeared in numerous publications. This week McCabe was kind enough to field some questions from the Abbeville Blog about his two Abbeville volumes, beginning with The Ramble.

The 38 acres of New York’s Central Park known as the Ramble are dense with trees, streams, and giant granite boulders; teeming with birds and other wildlife; and beautified by rustic bridges. For McCabe, this urban oasis is the heart and soul of the park.

Q. How did the Ramble project come about? What fascinated you about this particular aspect of the city and the park?

A. I was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my aunt for Thanksgiving a few years ago. She was a working photographer until she died this year at age 101. She published a ppage of photos every week in the Jackson paper. We used to go out together photographing wildlife and landscapes. When I got back to New York after Thanksgiving I went for a walk in Central Park and happened to wander into the Ramble. I had a eureka moment when I thought, my god, we have our own wilderness here! So I decided to start photographing it. I quickly realized that every hour of every day of every season presented new vistas–like a kaleidoscope. So I began returning to the same areas different times of year. Now, every time I go back I see photo opportunities that I wish I had had for the book. It would be tempting to do a sequel.

The Ramble is an amazing concept–a wilderness in the middle of Manhattan island. Of course there’s one big difference with Jackson Hole: no bear and moose. And while our rocky heights are thrilling to climb, they don’t match the Tetons.

Q. How does the Ramble change from season to season? What can tourists expect during the winter?

A. The differences between seasons are spectacular. I love the earliest days of spring with new buds and blossoms and the small light green leaves. One still gets the distant vistas through the trees then. Good for photography. In the summer visibility is limited and the shadows are dark and it becomes more difficult to compose interesting shots with the extreme contrasts in light. Fall is spectacular with amazing colors. Our printer once began desaturating the separation of a photo of Japanese Maple not believing such bright colors were possible. And being in the Ramble in a blizzard is a unique experience. When the snow is swirling down, and the views to the buildings of the skyline are blocked and the paths all hidden with fresh snow it’s very easy to get lost.

Q. Have there been any lingering effects of storm Sandy on the Ramble?

A. I haven’t been back in the Ramble since Sandy. But the early snowstorm last year (2011) destroyed many trees in the Ramble from the weight of the snow. During Sandy I was in Corfu for the opening of an exhibition of my photos. We had a big storm which cut off power. The opening was scheduled for after dark. The U.S. Ambassador had come, and the number two in the Chinese Embassy. There was no auxillary power so we were getting very anxious. Fortunately power was restored two hours before the opening.

Q. What aspects of the Ramble’s geology, flora, and fauna amaze you the most?

A. The history of the flora is very interesting, with useful non-native plants introduced by early settlers, then decorative non-native plants introduced for aesthetic reasons, and now a return to native plants after it was discovered that some of the non-native plants were taking over! For me the geology is really extraordinary, with the massive boulders dropped by the glaciers as they melted. I know of no other place with so many outcroppings of bedrock that have been so beautifully polished by the rocks held in the ice. There is also the mysterious channel carved in the rock. I think I finally figured it out this summer after seeing similar channels carved in bedrock on the island of Ithaka. They were to collect water from rain.

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Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of The Ramble in Central Park, published by Abbeville Press.

Pacific War Stories: A Q&A With Jerry Meehl

From Pacific War Stories. National Archives, 80G-48557.

Jerry Meehl is a writer, photographer, and the co-author, with the late Rex Alan Smith, of Abbeville’s Pacific War Stories, a compilation of gripping eyewitness accounts of one of the bloodiest war theaters in world history. To commemorate the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, as well as the release of Pacific War Stories as an e-book, Meehl took the time this week to answer a few questions for the Abbeville Blog.

Q. What sparked your interest in the Pacific theater of WWII? Do you have a relative who fought or other personal connection?

A. I had three uncles who served in the Pacific (all three of their stories are in Pacific War Stories–Harlan Wall in the Army in the Philippines, Al Hahn in the Navy on PT boats in the Philippines, and Louis Meehl who was a gunner in the Air Force and flew all over the Pacific). My dad was also in the Air Force but served in England. As you can imagine, as a kid growing up, I heard a lot of war stories at family gatherings, and I always thought the stories from the Pacific sounded particularly exotic, strangely evocative.

Q. In photographing major battle sites in the Pacific theater, what lingering evidence of the war have you found in the landscape?

A. In the 1970s I had a couple of jobs that took me to the Pacific, and I was amazed that it was just as exotic and strangely evocative as I’d imagined. I was also surprised when I saw a lot of remains from the Pacific war just laying around. I lived at Pago Pago in American Samoa for five months, and the old packed-coral WWII air strip, built by the Americans, was still there though not being used at that time. They had built a longer modern runway on the reef that connected to the old WWII runway, but I was intrigued that a packed coral runway could have survived nearly intact after all that time. There were also these little WWII-era concrete pillboxes built every quarter of a mile or so along the coast. The Americans had constructed them to repel a Japanese landing if it had come. During the course of my job, I visited a lot more islands, and it was the same story as on Pago Pago–legacies from the war were everywhere you looked. As at Pago Pago there were a lot of old packed coral runways, some built by the Japanese and some by the Americans, and many still in use in their original WWII configuration. On islands like Pohnpei, Truk, and Tawara, modern passenger jets were landing on those old coral WWII runways well into the 1980s! There were also traces of combat, especially in the Solomon Islands–rusting amphibious landing craft, guns, plane wrecks, and vehicles. It dawned on me that you didn’t see that many war relics where they were left after the war in Europe because Europeans had the resources to tidy things up after the fighting stopped. Pacific islanders had no such resources, so war relics were left where they lay. This was all infinitely fascinating to me, and I took a lot of photos of those war remains.

From Pacific War Stories. National Archives, Marine Corps 54377.

Q. What do you find is the most common misconception about the war in the Pacific (or Pearl Harbor specifically)?

A. Most people think the Japanese fired the first shot of the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. They’re wrong. The Americans did. The USS Ward, an American destroyer patrolling the mouth of the harbor, actually fired on and sunk a Japanese mini-sub trying to enter the harbor over an hour before the aerial attack started. Most people think the only time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor was on Dec. 7, 1941. Wrong again. The Japanese tried a second attack in March of 1942, carried out by two huge four-engine flying boats. They tried to attack at night, but cloud cover thwarted their efforts. One Japanese plane presumably dropped its bombs over the ocean, and the other released its bombs over the island of Oahu nowhere near Pearl Harbor, and lightly damaged a high school. Most people think the USS Arizona is the only sunken battleship still left from the December 7 attack. You guessed it, wrong again. There is a second sunken battleship still left in Pearl Harbor, the USS Utah. Like the USS Arizona, the Utah still lies mostly beneath the surface with only a part of the ship protruding above the water, and it also has a very well-designed shoreline memorial on Ford Island. But it’s difficult to visit at present since it is in an area of the naval base that’s off limits to civilians.

There are many ironies associated with the Pearl Harbor attack. One is that of all the battleships sunk or damaged on December 7, the only two that survive today are the two that were deemed too damaged to resurrect during the war, the USS Arizona and the USS Utah. All the other battleships were raised and repaired, but one was lost at sea after being raised (the Oklahoma), two were sunk at sea after being used in post-war A-bomb tests (the Pennsylvania and Nevada), and the rest were scrapped shortly after the war.

Q. Of the stories told in the volume, which resonates most with you personally?

A. Of course I have a personal stake in the stories told by my three uncles. To be able to have their experiences described in print was very gratifying to me. Two of the three (Uncle Har and Uncle Al) lived to see their stories published, and they got a big kick out of attending book signings with me and autographing books–they were suddenly celebrities!

Q. What do the experiences of the soldiers featured in the book have to teach us about war today?

A. One of the things I did when I interviewed veterans was to ask them how their wartime experiences affected the rest of their lives. These little epilogues appear at the end of most of their stories in the book, and are a unique aspect of Pacific War Stories. For those who were willing to talk about this aspect of their experience, they all said their lives were changed by the war, by what they saw, and what they experienced. Some had recurring nightmares throughout their lives. The trauma of war profoundly affects the participants in ways that cannot be anticipated or even understood by those who haven’t experienced combat. I fear that this has always been the case, and always will be.

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Click here to learn more about Pacific War Stories, published by Abbeville Press.

Pacific War Stories: Pearl Harbor, 71 Years Later

Bombing of Pearl Harbor, reprinted in Pacific War Stories. National Archives, 80G-32424.

I was on North Atlantic patrol before the war started, in Battleship Division Three, onboard the USS New Mexico. I think we were about 300 miles off the coast of England when the officer of the deck got on the horn and shouted down, “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.” I was sitting next to a chief petty officer who said, “Boy, that guy is in real, real trouble.” The impregnable Pearl Harbor? He really thought the guy was kidding. He said, “The Japanese couldn’t attack Pearl Harbor.” And then all of a sudden, on comes the skipper, and he told us all about it. So we immediately turned around and headed back.

So begins the firsthand account of George Thoma, a WWII Navy veteran, as recorded by editors Rex Allan Smith and Gerald A. Meehl in the collection Pacific War Stories. That volume, originally published by Abbeville Press in 2004 and recently released for the first time as an e-book, compiles the recollections of the survivors of the Pacific theater of the Second World War, which encompassed some of the most hellish combat environments any soldier has ever endured. The curtain on that theater was raised, of course, at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which the Japanese air force attacked on December 7, 1941.

The anniversary of that event is this Friday; the date that FDR said would “live in infamy” is now 71 years in the past. To most living Americans and Japanese, the bombing of the harbor is pure history, a fact to be memorized in grade school. But to those few for whom the attacks are a living memory, the wounds can still be terribly raw. Smith and Meehl recount a fraught meeting of the American Pearl Harbor Survivors nine years ago:

Back over at the public ceremony, a contingent of Japanese Pacific war veterans was in attendance, including Yuji Akamatsu. On the morning of December 7, 1941, at the controls of a torpedo bomber, he took off from the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga, on his way to attack Pearl Harbor. Sixty-two years later, on December 7, 2003, he returned to Pearl Harbor at ground level, having last seen it skimming twenty feet above its calm waters and dropping his torpedo on a track to the USS Nevada. The American Pearl Harbor Survivors had mixed feelings about seeing him sitting there in his wheelchair, exuding a weakened version of his former torpedo pilot persona, but still smiling and shaking hands and signing programs. Several of the American veterans went over to greet him, through his interpreter, and shake his hand. Others didn’t want to get near him. “I don’t have anything to say to that guy,” one Pearl Harbor Survivor stated gruffly, while a few others around him nodded in agreement.

The attacks, which killed 2,402 Americans and wounded 1,282, are now in fact so infamous that it’s hard to grasp how shocking they were in the event. Few Americans had heard of the harbor itself (Hawaii was not yet a U.S. state), and while 52% of the country at the time believed war with Japan was imminent, a vocal and politically powerful minority still wanted nothing to do with the conflict that had engulfed Europe and Asia. Most experts even within the U.S. military believed that hostilities with Japan, if initiated, would begin in the Phillipines; hardly anyone believed the war would be brought so violently to our doorstep. In Pacific War Stories, Navy veteran Al Hahn remembers:

I heard about Pearl Harbor when I was in Longmont, Colorado, and I was working for a doctor there. I was over at one of his neighbors’, and he said, “Say, did you hear what happened to the United States naval fleet?” “No, I didn’t hear a thing.” And he said, “The Japanese bombed them at Pearl Harbor.” “Pearl Harbor,” I said, “where is that? Never heard of it.”

Reading this, one wonders what percentage of American schoolchildren could now say with certainty where the harbor is located. The widely panned 2001 movie Pearl Harbor notwithstanding, the attacks are no longer as prominent a feature of America’s psyche: they are most often discussed nowadays by analogy with the trauma of 9/11, which burns far brighter in the public consciousness. Still, it’s harrowing primary documents like those in Pacific War Stories that forge our strongest link to the event, securing our best hope that Pearl Harbor will remain “heard of,” and the witnesses to its tragedy, heard from.

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Click here to learn more about Pacific War Stories, published by Abbeville Press.

Monday Drinking: The Knickerbocker Cocktail from “American Bar”

It’s almost cocktail hour here in New York, and since working Mondays are always hard on the nerves, we thought we’d dip into our backlist today and bring you a classic drink recipe from a classic Abbeville volume. The Knickerbocker Cocktail, featured in Charles Schumann’s American Bar: The Artistry of Mixing Drinks (1995), is a traditional martini with a tiny twist. Drink snobs may know that there’s a rum-based version that goes by the same name, but that version is a rank impostor; we’re referring here to the gin drink. It goes a little something like this:

3/4 oz dry vermouth
dashes vermouth bianco (or vermouth rosso)
1 oz gin
lemon peel

Stir well in a mixing glass filled with ice cubes, strain into a chilled martini glass, squeeze lemon twist over drink and drop into the glass.

Sip, unwind, enjoy. For an added touch of class, drink while casually perusing Abbeville’s new Warhol e-book on your iPad. Or, for that matter, while perusing American Bar itself, by way of planning your next concoction. Remember: the weekend may seem like ages away, but five o’clock is just around the corner.

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Click here to purchase American Bar, by Charles Schumann, published by Abbeville Press.

Click here to purchase Warhol (e-book edition), by Carter Ratcliff, published by Abbeville Press.