Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Study in Channeling Your Childhood

A few weekends ago while I was selling books at the Maine Comics Arts Festival, my table was surrounded by gaggles of enthusiastic kids. I find that it's often too easy to get a little trapped in your process and forget why you're making books. Those kids reminded me, recharged me, and really got me thinking...

 What did I like about books when I was a kid? 

That first sense of ownership?

There are a few things worth noting: The price of a Little Golden Book was 89 cents in 1983 and it seems I really enjoyed books that helped me learn something science-y! 

I loved my books and really, really took care of them:


The first book I might have ever owned is My Home, a Little Golden Book written by Reneé Bartkowski and illustrated by ROFry Ross. I wrote ALL over the pages of this book, which I like to think means I REALLY liked it. :) 

Detail from My Home, Illustration by ROFry

I stopped on the page below and remembered thinking: "That is what a city looks like!" I grew up in a small suburb in PA. I was close enough to Scranton to get a taste of city, but also close to many farms. It was the best of both worlds, but I didn't know what a big city like New York was like. I only saw it in pictures.

I used to pretend (more like really believe) that an electric tower in the distance was the Statue of Liberty and I could see it from my back door!.

Detail from My Home, Illustration by ROFry

I was a little obsessed with 500 Words to Grow Onillustrated by Harry McNaught. The book contained only objects or creatures with the occasional scene:

Detail from 500 Words to Grow On, Illustrations by Harry McNaught

Detail from 500 Words to Grow On, Illustrations by Harry McNaught

No story to read, but I might have imagined each of the objects or creatures having a story of it's own. That bus sure looks alive to me and on it's way to pick up some passengers.

Detail from 500 Words to Grow On, Illustrations by Harry McNaught

This book also falls right in line with my childhood love of rock collections and science kits. I spent hours looking through microscopes at butterfly wings and ants. 

Detail from 500 Words to Grow On, Illustrations by Harry McNaught

My What-a-Mess books were so cherished, their bindings are broken! Joseph Wright created a secondary narrative in his illustrations that sucked me right in. The little people and creature characters, often wearing bath towels or skydiving, had nothing to do with the main storyline. 

Detail from Super What-a-Mess, Illustration by Joseph Wright

But they sure were fun to find in the MESS!

Detail from Super What-a-Mess, Illustration by Joseph Wright

One more book that really strikes a chord, is Old Friends, New Friends. Flipping through this book tugged on my heart strings page after page. I must have really liked this one. I remember thinking, "Whoa, she's friends with a BOY." Not to mention, the guy to the left of the red balloon looks EXACTLY like my father.

Detail from Old Friends, New Friends, Illustrated by Jane Chambless-Rigie

Everyone kind of has bowl haircuts and out of date clothing (even for then), but I didn't care. I so badly wanted to wear this girl's tights, and be on stage, and roller skate with balloons. I wanted to be THEM.

Detail from Old Friends, New Friends, Illustrated by Jane Chambless-Rigie

So, it's a little nutty, the power of a book. Granted, things have changed since then, there is more TV than anyone knows what to do with, iPads, a million video games, etc. We author/illustrators have to fight hard to get kids to love our stories. But when they do, it's the most rewarding thing in the world. 

We have the power to write and illustrate things kids will remember and wonder about for ages to come, like...where did Goldilock's left shoe go? I never did figure that one out. 

Detail from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Illustration by Lilian Obligado



  1. Thanks for the trip through your childhood books. It got me thinking about mine. 500 Words was a huge favorite, but it had a different cover.
    Anyway, as one coal-cracker to another I've gotta ask, after all your time in Boston, do you still say "Haina"?

    1. LOL! It was never in my vocabulary, but there was a slight Minnesota Bobby's World-esque accent in my voice. It comes back when I'm around my family!

  2. This makes me want to re-read ALL of my faves. My sister and I had the tape to Bread and Jam for Francis and now I read it exactly like the tape, to Grace. Also, I still want to ride a black horse down the beach like in The Black Stallion. Also, someday I want to live in the house in The Little House. That's all for now.

    1. If I could "like" this comment, I would. I hope you get to do all or most of those things in your lifetime. :) Or something similar, of course. Hehe.

      I have so many more faves on top of these, I wish I could talk about them all, but the post would be soooo long!