I always love finding some strange picture book with an odd storyline or sense of design.

This past weekend, I went to a mini-comics show at the Durham County Public Library, and found they had a nifty wall of old books for sale from the Friends of the Library.  It was a great lineup of books at like $2 apiece, and I found a number of hardcover collections of old New Yorker cartoonists that some of my cartoonist friends snapped up.

What I also found was a really, really weird 1953 children’s book called THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY by Phyllis Rowand.

The story is nothing unusual — it’s a tale of a little girl who lives by the water with her parents and loves animals, and her parents send her to the city (read: NYC) to visit cousins and see more of the world, and she sees some sights, and then brings back some animal-themed gifts that prove to her parents that she knows how to appreciate nature.  It’s simple and possibly autobiographical.

The LOOK of the story, though, is pretty odd.

Rowand 1

It’s a strange mixture of regular and colored pencils, along with some oddly-shaped figures and these weird, wide-eyed depictions of the little girl that make her look like one of those doe-eyed children from those old paintings.

Rowand 2

I was showing this one to the talented cartoonist Ben Towle at the comics show.  He was as fascinated by it as I was — he said it was almost like “outsider art.”

Rowand 3

I emailed the Caldecott-winning children’s book illustrator David Small, of such books as IMOGENE’S ANTLERS and his graphic memoir STITCHES.

He’d never heard of this one, though he’s very knowledgeable on classic picture books.  Here’s his comments, reprinted with permission:

Zack,

This stuff is strange. She can’t draw but her designs aren’t bad. It’s the obsessive quality of the drawing –the hair, the dots on the dress– that makes them, as your friend said, almost Outsider art. The figures and animals are sacharrine, though I do like the little fat girl–probably unintentionally made fat– on her stomach in the first (best) illustration. 
Rowand 4
I looked up Rowand on Amazon — not a lot of other books to her name.  About the only note I have is that she did a book with Ruth Krauss, author of THE CARROT SEED, called BEARS — and decades later, the book was re-done with new illustrations by the great Maurice Sendak.  But nothing else on Rowand.
Rowand 5
Anyway, I have no idea what the full history is of this book, but it was a strange little volume to encounter, and there’s something oddly compelling in the offbeat quality of the illustrations.  I share the highlights now with you; judge for youself.

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