Idea on 3/5/2016. Written on 11/2016 and 3/2018.
I was just reading an article about “good children’s lit books with diversity” and they included an image from one – Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say. I looked at the picture and suddenly started tripping really far back.
I loved going to the library as a child and even volunteered helping shelve books in elementary school (which fast forward 11 years later, helped me get my current job at the MIT Libraries haha). Part of doing this caused me to become intimately familiar with Caldecott and Newberry Award winning books.
Allen Say’s art and book style was really distinctive from the other art – not cartoony and very serious. I still remember that all of the covers of his books were a square of his art framed by a really drab secondary color. The fact that he was Asian-American might have also helped him stick with me.
I remember this scene from Tea With Milk which I guess must have been my first experience about reading an Asian person being stuck between two cultures, huh. I still remember the tear-torn face of crying Emma when her drawing inspiration rug got washed from Emma’s Rug, because it was such an emotional single moment captured in such accurate detail that it almost felt like Allen Say had taken a photograph of me. I think Emma’s Rug in particular stuck so much with me because the story is about being deemed “gifted” by those around you and then losing what makes you seem smart, then being so upset by it, but later recovering from it. Not a metaphor at all.
It’s really just shocking how much memories stick with you. I was 20 and just browsing an article, when all of a sudden I see this picture and I’m just absolutely transported to little old me, reading picture books in the soft carpeted area of my school’s library. I really can’t describe the rush that I felt just looking at just the covers, wow. I tripped back hard.
Other classic ones from the original NPR list that I recognized immediately include The Snowy Day and The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. Now I’m just looking at all the Caldecott covers and going AAAAH. I can definitely still recognize and tell you the plots of most of these.
While we’re on the subject of “art that seems way too serious for kids, but is all the more beautiful for it”, Chris Van Allsburg’s art (of Jumanji and Polar Express fame) has always been amazing. The art in particular from “The Mysteries from Harris Burdick” really stuck with me a lot. In 5th grade, we were given pictures from there as a writing prompt for our own stories. It was all really delightfully creepy (Mine was this one). Definitely ridiculously unfortunate that creative writing isn’t encouraged more as you get older.
Stay literary, my friends