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.