Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The General


Janet Charters; Illustrated by Michael Foreman

I think it's so cool that today's publishing companies will occasionally reprint anniversary editions of terrific books that truly deserve a fresh run. Random House reprinted Little Blue and Little Yellow just last year, opening a whole new set of eyes to this classic.  And now thanks to Candlewick Press, we can celebrate Michael Foreman's debut picture book, originally published in 1961. I had no idea this book existed, and I'm so thankful that I was around for the reissue.  
General Jodhpur desperately wanted to become the most famous general in the world and have his success be admired by all the other generals. To achieve his goal, he demanded his soldiers work hard every day. He was very regimented and insisted upon strict marching practices, diligent gun maintenance and smartly pressed uniforms.  Everything was going according to his plan, until ....

General Jodhpur was out riding in the country one morning, when he was suddenly thrown from his mount. Luckily for him, he landed uninjured upon on an expanse of soft grass. Instead of rising immediately, the general began to appreciate his surroundings. He was startled to realize how beautiful the forest was, and the abundance of wildlife that roamed the land. As he walked on, he discovered field mice and squirrels, many types of birds and bees lazily buzzing through fields of wonderful flowers. The general was spellbound by what he had previously failed to notice.    

General Jodhpur's woodland experience truly opened his eyes; he realized he no longer wanted to reign over an army that wrought destruction.  The next morning, he announced to his men that the army would disband and they would no longer harm or frighten any creatures again. The new goal would be to make his country the most beautiful in the world!  All his people worked hard to turn the army camp into a thriving city. The farmers grew vegetables and fruit in their fields and the fisherman returned to their boats.  General Jodhpur's people were very happy and his land was lush.   

The strange happenings in General Jodhpur's country spread around the world. Two important generals contacted him, asking if they could see for themselves these incredible changes.  When the generals visited and saw how content his people were and how beautiful his lands were, they declared General Jodhpur "the most famous general in the whole world."  So he did achieve his original goal, but in a vastly different way!

Obviously, the book was written with the intended message that peace triumphs over war. I don't care for preachy books, but this one manages to avoid that path while still presenting its point of view. Glorious, wonderful watercolors from Michael Foreman clearly show why this book was chosen to be reissued as a 50th Anniversary Edition.  The scans above just don't do justice to how beautiful the pages appear when held in your hands; the illustration are bold and luminous, not washed out or dull. This book really is a "Celebration of Peace and Beauty" - both in written word and by brush stroke.  

Review copy provided by Candlewick Press.

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