Friday, December 17, 2010

Stories without words, without borders

My friend is drawn to a book that has many words, which, by the way, he has absolutely no idea what the words, and sentences mean. He is three and a half. Anyway, he reads (rather he gazes at the pictures), so focused. I guess he is under the spell of the illustrations as he turns the pages, and unwritten stories unfold. I don’t dare interrupt him, but wonder what he is thinking, what he perceives, what he imagines. I should ask him what the story is about. Then he would tell me the story, the story only he can tell... Children enter the world of literature (or simply stories), not just by words, but also pictures that hold their eyes, and enchant them.

In Giora Carmi’s
A Circle of Friends, a boy goes to a bakery and gets a muffin for a treat. On his way back home, the boy sees a homeless man sleeping on a bench. He looks at his muffin, having taken only a few bites...hesitates, then leaves his muffin for the homeless man. The man wakes up, surprised, and happily eats the muffin. The man sees birds in a nest, and leaves some crumbs for them. The story goes on, the boy’s kindness brings unexpected, yet, joyful moments to the boy. The story is told in wordless pages, only through illustrations.

This wordless story can travel to any corner of the globe, beyond borders, beyond languages, as does kindness. Kindness, Giora Carmi whispers, goes beyond borders, whether between strangers or between people and animals. Then as the title says, we are all in a circle of friends, where miracles of kindness happen (or the law of kindness is discovered). The quiet kindness and sharing are the spirit of the holiday seasons that we remember most, and have our children grow with.

p.s. For little children, telling a story of a wordless picture book may not be an easy task at first. They need our interaction, and theatrical(?) help. Becoming a storyteller from a listener, I guess, is unknown to them, yet, an exciting experience for them. As it often happens with children who have imaginary friends, this experience will expand their vocabulary, and ability to form a narrative. I wonder how would the same wordless book be rendered in different cultures, let’s say, by a boy in New York or by a girl in Peru or in China? But all stories will be unique in their own way, the story that only the child can tell. Monroe County Public Library (Indiana) has compiled a list of the books without words.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sweet and Gentle Bedtime Story, Good Night, Little Sea Otter

The sun is setting, so is Little Sea Otter in Mother’s arms. But he is not ready for bed yet. Perhaps, so much fun was his day-giggling, splashing, swimming, grooming and cuddling with his friends under the shining sun. Then he remembered he didn’t say good night to harbor seals. So he waves to the harbor seals, “Good night, harbor seals.” Then to sea lions, to orange fish, yellow fish, purple fish; to sea urchins, to sea stars, to clams and crabs. One by one, Little Sea Otter says “Good night,” to all his sea friends. Between the hubbub of good night exchanges, there are giggling moments. Now Little Sea Otter is ready for bed and sweet dreams, tucking himself into Mother’s warm chest. Mother Otter rolls kelp over them for the night’s long sleep. Wait, Little Sea Otter forgot to say good night to the twinkling stars and the moon. So he did.

Good Night Little Sea Otter, Janet Halfmann captures young children’s sweet and genuine nature that often comforts the grown-ups. When the story is ending, you would imagine the satisfying smile of a child, her eyes slowly closing, and the night’s peace would fall over her face.
The ocean, home to the most diversified creatures, the colourful fishes, sea mammals, and all sea creatures are illuminated in Wish Williams’s eloquent illustrations. Above all, Little Sea Otter, the furry sea mammal becomes irresistibly adorable.
The Children’s and Teens’ Book Connection posted a review, recommending Good Night, Little Sea Otter to “anyone looking for the perfect bedtime story.”

Well, then, good night, Little Sea Otter. Sleep tight, Sweet dreams.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ernest H. Shepard, the Illustrator of Winnie-the-Pooh

Ernest H. Shepard, who drew the magical lines that gave a shape, personality, mood and soul to the world of Christopher Robin-the forest, Eeyore, Piglet, Rabbit, Kanga, Tiger, and of course, Winnie-the-pooh, was born on this very day (December 10), many years ago, precisely in 1879. Much blessing to all generations of children to come to befriend with the “silly old bear,” Winnie-the-Pooh, and growing up with him in his forest. Remember the way Pooh was coming downstairs?: “bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.” Or, the Pooh hanging high up on the branch to get honey from the bees. Or, Pooh that couldn’t get out of the Rabbit house after eating way to much honey and condensed milk. A week later, Christopher Robin and all animals in the forest had to come to pull him out of the Rabbit’s front door(hole). Or, how Christopher fixed Eeyore’s tail with a tiny nail that sticks out, that made mostly gloomy Eeyore so happy running in circles. So delicious! We all have our favorite moment of Pooh in action, don’t we?

E.H Shepard was born in London to a mother who was a daughter of a water-colorist, and to a father, an architect by profession, and an amateur actor. Rawle Knox, the author of The Works of E. H. Shepard (1980) wrote: “He was born, of imaginative parents, into a world which he found romantic almost as soon as he could use his eyes and ears.”
(His happy boyhood in the Victorian era was so well captured in his memoir Drawn from Memory (1957). No wonder how he could capture the mind of children, and their imaginations so well in his drawings. He reminisces of his boyhood in great detail, always paying close attention to the people he encountered. Knox wrote,“His tales, told in a rarely broken atmosphere of happiness, vividly describe an age, and yet say even more about the author.”).
After reputable St. Paul’s School, he went to the Royal Academy School, with a 3 year scholarship. He met his wife Florance there. They had son Graham, and daughter Mary. Graham’s teddy bear, “Glowler” became the model of Winnie-the-Pooh. When he was introduced to A.A.Milne for Mr. Milne’s works of verses (When We Were Very Young), Mr.Milne didn’t like Shepard’ drawings. He wanted someone on his level of reputation, perhaps. Well, but that soon changed, A.A.Milne even wished that Shepard’s drawings decorate his grave. Although Shepard was most known for his illustrations of A.A. Milne’s four books (When We Were Very Young 1924, Winnie-the-Pooh 1926, Now We Are Six 1927, The House of at Pooh Corner 1928), his works are beyond them: Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1930), and Richard Jefferies’s Bevis (1932), just name a few. Until his death in 1976, Shepard never stopped his delicious drawings for tales of children.

Many praised the works of Shepard.
“Master of line” Bevis Hillier, former editor of The Connoisseur.
“In When We Were Very Young, Ernest Shepard looks at children with the understanding sympathy and sense of humor and a recollection of his own childhood that make it possible for him to take a fair share in making this book.”
-Helen Cady Forbes "Delicious Sillies" in New York Herald Tribune Books, December. 14, 1924.
“Mr. Milne should go down on his knees every night and thank God for having sent him an illustrator so perfectly attuned to the spirit of his tasks as Mr. Shepard has proved himself.”
-NYT Book Review, October 23, 1927.

Well, it wouldn’t be necessary to what critics said about Shepard’s drawing. Let’s just get a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh, or When We Were Very Young or anything by Shepard. And make yourself lost into his “lost and found” lines, and the world of children and forest animals.