Sorry, too much “Go!” Sorry, too much “Stop!”
When Charise Mericle Harper’s diggers talk little people listen. And big people too. I have witnessed the delight of several children this week under the age of three who, like me, have fallen in love with Little Green and Little Red. Once again the personification genius of author illustrator Harper makes us all pay attention. GO! GO! GO! STOP! is a book that brings calamity up a notch with the sincerity of a couple of well meaning traffic lights that roll into town with just one word to say. And say, and say, and say. The toddlers I spend time with get it. They chime in with Go! Stop! STOP! GO! It’s pure magic on the page. Not to be missed. GO buy it.
My favorite lines are the apologetic ones. Boy am I ever guilty of too much ‘Go’, not enough ‘Go’, too much ‘Stop’. In my ongoing quest to become a published children’s book author and illustrator I need these words for all of the editors who have helped me when I have fallen short. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have overstepped in my communication with an editor more than once. Belief in my own project at the time made me lose all sensibility. I was over solicitous. I once emailed an editor to ask about a rejected manuscript that I had revised with her over the phone. I was pretty much incredulous that it would come that close and not be acquired. Once an editor goes through the anguish of letting go of a manuscript they believe in how helpful is it to hear from the author again? I couldn’t take no for an answer. Way too much ‘Go!’ I’ve also done my share of leaving an editor dead in the water with no follow up in their interest in my work. Sure, I can make excuses, but it really doesn’t matter what came up. I was guilty of too much ‘Stop!’ Other author illustrators came along for them but still I didn’t honor their invitation to send more of my work. I dropped the ball. I’m sure some of my manuscripts would give me a piece of their mind if they could talk. Perhaps they would say, “Out! Out! Out!” and others who know they need more work would shout ‘IN!’ I’ve held on to work that is ready to circulate and sent mediocre packages out. I’ve come across rejections with my submission still attached and been shocked. Oh no. This can’t be what I sent. What crap. No wonder it was rejected. Then I finally take the time to really look at it. I reread the comments. See generosity not animosity. Then I discover that I have enough ‘Go!’ again. I can’t stop myself! I start rebuilding.
Maybe we are all building bridges, looking to the traffic lights, committing to others who are our ‘exact opposites’ because it comes with the territory of being human. We are all scooping below the surface, dumping our stuff on other people’s heads, and sometimes even completing projects with fanfare…and fans. Whoo-hoo! I’ve never much been into diggers. I don’t have the same obsession of the two-year-old who jumps up from what we are doing together because he hears a truck backing up outside his window. I’ve smartened up a bit though. I go with him. It is truly amazing what these earth movers do. Mericle-ous, really. It isn’t just another sewer pipe for a two-year-old. When did I stop noticing? It’s a good thing, this world of picture books. When reading aloud to a child (A thousand thank yous, Mem Fox, for Reading Magic) it is never just a book.
SPOILER ALERT! STOP READING HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT YET READ GO! GO! GO! STOP! by Charise Mericle Harper. So let’s talk about the ending. The power of yellow. Thankfully he slides into town and his timing is perfect. We all know what it is we need to do. That daunting project called Self Care. Listen to Little Yellow’s wisdom and “SLOW DOWN!” “They were the perfect words for a busy bridge.”
On March 1, 2000 the world lost Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, an American author who wrote picture book classics for children. She was raised in Crawfordsville, Indiana where a child could “gather violets, live in a tree, walk in the woods — be.”
Poetry month invokes in me a desire to remember those masters that came before such amazing contemporary poets as Douglas Florian, J. Patrick Lewis, and Joyce Sidman. Going For A Walk (1982), a small format book by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, includes her lovely torn and cut paper collages of a small girl going for a walk and greeting animals along the way. It was first published as The Little Book (1961). Perhaps my favorite poem of all time is her lovely Keep A Poem In Your Pocket. It promises that a memorized poem is your antidote to loneliness. What Can You Do With A Shoe? (1997) with art by Maurice Sendak begs to be sung to a made up tune of your very own. What can you do/What can you do/What can you do with a broom? she asks the reader. May I Bring A Friend, illustrated by Beni Montresor, won the Caldecott Award in 1965. I run across first editions of her lovely books from time to time at antique booksellers. I presume that they are rare finds because they seldom get weeded from personal book collections. Some still live on local library shelves in their children’s rooms. They sure do take my breath away. I miss you, Mrs de Regniers.
Keep A Poem In Your Pocket
Keep a poem in your pocket
And a picture in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.
The little poem will sing to you
The little picture bring to you
A dozen dreams to dance to you
At night when you’re in bed.
Keep a picture in your pocket
And a poem in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes? Not so much. I had a cowgirl outfit when I was six. I can conjure the feel of my mom’s tug when she put my hair in braids. They stuck out from underneath my cowgirl hat. My little girl braids were always skinny looking things, not the fat blonde braids that I knew to be more legitimate, somehow, and Scandinavian. Mine were Irish, from my mother, and French Canadian from my balding father. But I still do count braids as one of my favorite things. Snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes, definitely. After this past winter you’d think I’d be done like everyone else with any mention of snow. I am drawn to white space in the illustrations in children’s books. Snow falling makes a sweet quiet show outside. You can stand in it. You are in the art.
Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton took my breath away when I first saw it. He makes such amazing use of white space in this perfectly plotted book. He uses olive green as ‘white’ space in some spreads and then stark white in others. It’s the kind of effective use of white space that makes me want to cry it’s so good. The title text is a magnificent use of dead white shapes making the little owl on the cover look extremely lost. You can’t not open the book to see the reuniting that Haughton promises the young reader. But to open the book and see what he’s done on every page is a sumptuous banquet for anyone striving to understand that picture book pairing of art, story, and design that is perfection. The squirrel, so well meaning, talks like a squirrel. “Yes! Yes! I know! I know! Follow me…” Surely this is Ulysses before he met Flora. Little owl surrounded in white space with his silhouette explaining to Squirrel what his mother looks like is immediately accessible to children. The invitation works every time, making a child put arms out to show mommy is very big, holding index fingers on the sides of the head for pointy ears, and cupped hands up goggle-like to tell of Mommy owl’s big eyes. But each time in stark white space we see that Ulysses has it wrong again. Bear is big but not his mommy. Rabbit has pointy ears but rabbit is not Mommy Owl. It’s page after page of design, color, and white space that is very effective. Thanks for the crash course, Chris Haugton. Your books are a few of my favorite things.
Birds and words were two of my mother’s favorite things. She knew a thing or two about passing down her favorites by example. We had a wall phone in the kitchen over the bureau that housed all of our sledding socks and mittens. My mother spent little time talking on the phone. She did talk to the bird lady though. When mom was standing at the bureau looking at her pad of pencil marks and reading off the bird count we were all uncharacteristically quiet. Birds were important to mom. Knowing how many of each kind was a science you didn’t get in the way of. So birds. The look of them, the sound of them, especially that ‘teakettle-teakettle’ song of a Carolina Wren, their antics on wires, branches, and feeders all make for constant encounters with favorites every single day. Tiny moving museums of color, or not, just there for the asking. Quite remarkable, if you ask me.
Words were puzzles to mom. You had to use the dictionary to look up their meaning or you might die of not knowing. You had to use correct grammar or say it again. When mom was passionate about something she let the town know through a letter to the editor. Words could make you fearless. Mom was a word wonder to behold for all eighteen years we lived under the same roof. I learned that working at words brought me great pleasure. I became a teacher of the deaf so I could teach word-ness. I want to earn a place on the bookshelf. I write and rewrite words. It is enormously fun. They seem to be on endless racks just waiting. Every size, style, fabric imaginable. A super store open 24 hours. Shopping is one of my least favorite things unless I get to go shopping for the right words. Words are a few of my favorite things. No wonder.