Debra Darvickenhance your now in word and image
One of the best perks about being Olivia’s, and now Leah’s, grandmother is luxuriating in children’s books. Here are three recent faves:
A flea market cutaway illustration of the interior of a lighthouse inspired Sophie Blackall to write this charming tale of a lighthouse keeper and the lighthouse he kept. The story is straightforward and poignant. The illustrations are clever and felicitiously detailed. This lighthouse keeper brings his wife to the lighthouse. The illustration of them reaching for one another as she is hoisted to him winch by winch is delightful. The author shares her love and knowledge of lighthouses in a bonus section at the end. Lighthouses are now mechanized. Gratitude to Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall for capturing and preserving a bygone way of ilfe.
A friend urged me to read this hysterical book to Olivia. Jim Panzee, the eponymous grumpy monkey, wakes up “one wonderful day to discover that nothing was right.” Jim’s fellow creatures try to cajole and exhort him out of his grumps. He’s not having it. I loved this book’s message because it honors feelings (and the monkey feeling them) we so often try to chase away in ourselves and in others. The text is great fun to act out, especially as Jim’s frustrations escalate each time a friend offers a cure. Author Suzanne Lang‘s text rings true and compassionate; Max Lang’s accompanying illustrations perfectly capture Jim’s frustration. We all have our moods. Grumpy Monkey reminds us that we have a right to our mood and more importantly, that they shift.
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
I love Kevin Henkes. Just to name a small fraction of this award-winning author’s work: Kitten’s First Moon, Chrysanthemum, Owen, and now Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. We all have known a Lilly; indeed we may have been a Lilly once upon a time. Henkes’ Lilly is a darling prima donna. She’s spunky, exuberant, confident and utterly unable to contain herself the day she brings her new purple plastic purse to school.
Mr. Slinger is the kind of teacher who inspires his devoted students to follow in his footsteps. Especially Lilly. Until the morning he has to curb her irrrepressible urge to share her newest treasure. What follows is a beautiful lesson in confronting our missteps, suffering and atoning for them, and being forgiven. Like I said. I love Kevin Henkes.
Each of the above titles is hyperlinked to their page at bookshop.org.
IMHO, no personal library can be complete without at lease one shelf of children’s picture books. Children’s books, good ones anyway, are works of art for the eye and the soul.
A children’s picture book author must distill deep human questions into the fewest words possible. The illustrator must render universal emotions and experiences into artwork that enhances the text while not overpowering it.
For years I collected children’s picture books to read with the grandchildren I hoped I might have one day. Now that I do, it’s not only a delight to share my treasures but I discover new treasures each time I visit. Here are my three most recent finds:
I adore Joyce Hesselberth. Her artwork is charming and in pitter pattern her illustrations were ingenious invitations to discover patterns page after page.
Anthony Browne is a new one for me. Any reader can identify with Browne’s eponymous Willy the Dreamer, who envisions himself as an actor, a painter, a scuba diver. Browne’s artwork is a trifecta of cleverness. There bunches of hidden bananas, visual puns and
best of all for the art-wise adult, homages to Magritte, Dali and Henri Rousseau among others.
I didn’t get to spend enough time with Oliver Jeffers and the book he wrote for his newborn son. Here We Are, Notes for Living on the Planet Earth. Jeffers’ illustrations become increasingly complex as he moves from the Earth’s atompshere and the solar system and weather systems to life here on earth. These are the kinds of illustrations that take time to enjoy, the kinds that reward the reader the more carefully and deeply she explores the pages. This two-page spread of humanity entranced me as much as it did Olivia. After this most recent visit with Olivia, dedicating another shelf in my office to chidren’s picture boks just might be in order.
Some years back, my sisters were in town to celebrate my birthday. In a shop window, we saw a string of origami dresses displayed on a clotheseline. I was utterly enchanted. I had to make one. Or two. I found a great tutorial online and went on an origami dress kick for a few weeks, folding and embellishing dresses from my stash of art papers. I ended up making so many that I could have opened up a dress shop for flat fashionistas. Instead, I shared the bounty with my tiling friends.
Kicking around ideas for this week’s Grandlife readers, I recalled the fun I had making origami dresses. Yep. I found the crafter whose instructions I had followed. Christy at Inklings & Yarns has a great tutorial showing you, fold by fold, how to turn a 5″ x 5″ piece of paper (or 10″x 10″) into a fun frock. If you have a budding McQueen or Chanel, this would be a great way to spend an afternoon or more. For some inspiration here’s the latest from Paris’ Haute Couture Fashion Week. My fave is this stunner from Christian Dior.
As for paper? You can use anything from grocery bags to the comics pages to gift wrap. Michaels has great pads of paper in coordinated colors and patterns. Or feast online; there are oodles of paper sites that will knock your socks off. Embellish your dresses with stickers, puffy markers, glitter pens, stick-on rhinestones. Or make a few, string them together with tiny clothespins, and you’ve got a cute wall decoration. Make a larger one (pretty in pink on the left was made from a sheet of twelve-inch-square paper) and frame it as a new baby gift. Or do what I did with the one below — fold a dress and tape it to a notebook. Oooh la la…
The morning of our daughter’s wedding dawned cloudy and windy. Every time we checked, the weather predictions grew worse. Wind whistled through the tree limbs, whipping whitecaps across the lake beyond the house we’d rented for the weekend. Although weather portended wedding challenges, nature’s show was nevertheless exciting. I scooped up our granddaughter, bundled us in quilts, and cuddled her to me in a deck chair overlooking the water. We sat quietly for a few minutes, taking in the majesty and mayhem.
“Isn’t it funny,” I asked Olivia, “how you can’t see the wind but you can see what wind does to the trees and the water?” We watched the branches relax and then begin to sway once more as the winds picked up. “The Hebrew word for wind is ruach,” I said, “That same word also means breath or spirit. Some people say that the wind is God’s breath.” Olivia snuggled closer for a moment and then asked humanity’s eternal question, “Is God real?”
“It’s hard to believe something that we cannot see, isn’t it?” I replied. “You feel Mama and Dada’s love for you, yes?” She nodded. “Is it real even though you can’t see it?” Another nod. “Some people believe God is real. Some people don’t,” I replied. “I believe that even though we can’t see God, we see what God makes possible: the beauty of the world, the love that we feel for one another. Our holidays and Shabbat.”
When Olivia lived nearby, she would stay the night with us. Come morning, we’d go into the back yard and sing in Hebrew a morning prayer of thanks to God for giving us a new day. I am certain kids come into the world attuned to a Divine whisper. All too soon earthbound voices overtake the whisper. I wanted to maintain a space for Olivia to continue to be able to hear what so many traditions call the “still small voice within.” We shared one last cuddle before the cold drove us inside.
Before we knew it, wedding time arrived. The winds, which had continued all afternoon, were now joined by a sudden snow squall. Olivia refused to relinquish her role as flower girl. Shoulders hunched, hands dug deep into the pockets of her white faux fur jacket, she walked with determination despite snow now blowing sideways across her path.
Life will indeed buffet my sweet girl. From time to time capricious winds will blow her off course before calming once again. What might Olivia strain to hear within the maelstrom? Will she listen with yearning? With doubt? Turn a deaf ear altogether?
Is God real? How can I look at this beautiful soul that is my granddaughter, and now her little sister as well, and believe otherwise? I cannot.
Photo, “Storm on the Lake” courtesy of glindsay65, is licensed under Creative Commons
When our granddaughter, Olivia, lived close by guiding her spirit was a daily joy. We would take Nature walks and marvel over clouds and ants. We rescued earthworms from the sidewalk, tipping them back into the lawn. When Olivia slept over, we’d go into the garden to recite Modah Ani, a Hebrew prayer thanking God for giving us a new day for learning and playing. She came with me to synagogue nearly every Saturday morning and felt very much at home there. Admittedly religion and spirituality can be two separate entities. It was a deep gift exposing her to Jewish ritual and prayer all the while embracing the ad hoc spiritual experiences that are everywhere when you are a child and a child at heart.
Years ago, I bought Dr. Peggy J. Jenkins’ Nurturing Spirituality in Children. Through simple lessons, Dr. Jenkins teaches profound lessons in gratitude, trust, the power of words, the power of anger and so much more. A lesson from the Seedlings chapter (for the beginning learner) uses balloons to teach us to remember that what is within a person is more important than what is outside. What makes the balloon a balloon? The breath that inflates it. Without air, the ballon is little more than shrunken potential. So it is with us — the life force within each of us defines us, not our color, our size or how high we might fly.
Nurturing Spirituality in Children is a book for child and adult alike, offering concrete life lessons to fortify the spirtual life that resides within.
“Everyone else has a grandma and a grandpa. You have an Abe and Estelle?” a college roommate remarked when she heard me refer to my grandparents by their first names. I have no idea how it came about, nor had I ever thought about it until Sally mentioned it. It was just another facet of our relationship that made what we had so very special. I was born overseas; my father was in the service. Abe and Estelle crossed the ocean on the Queen Mary to meet their first grandchild, writing home to their friends, “We can report that Debby has long black hair, weighed 6 pound 3 ounces and is vigorously interested in the new world about her. Debby’s arrival was duly noted at Friday evening services conductd by Rabbi (Captain) Schriner…and attended by her father and paternal grandparents.” Thus was born a relationship where distance had no sway.
We spent time in Florida together, walking on the beach, playing in the lollygoggles (Abe’s mysterious name for the waves), collecting seashells and going out to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Times were different then and it was a short flight. Putting me on a plane to see them, even when I was as young as four, was just part of what we did. We were a little family of three, complete and stable in a way that meant more and more to me as the years passed and my homelife disintegrated.
Of all the questions asked and answered, it never occurred to me to ask Estelle what it meant to her to become a grandmother. What were her thoughts the first time she held me? What were her dreams for me? Most of all I wish she could see me now. Her granddaughter has become a grandmother! I long to talk as equals in this role we now share and kvell together over her two great-great granddaughters. I like to think that Abe and Estelle are still here, watching over me as I have become a grandmother. For my part, it remains and will forever be a relationhip where distance has no sway.