There I was, listening to the best children’s book authors and illustrators at the Eric Carle Museum of picture Book Art, talking about what inspired them. I couldn’t write fast enough (yes, I took a flurry of notes) or listen hard enough. I strained my ears so I wouldn’t miss a word. And, there were so many words and ideas spoken. I wonder if the artists realize that while they shared their stories of inspiration, they were also inspiring their audience. Me!
When I read a book aloud, I tell children in my class, “The words go into your ears, then into your brain and straight to your heart.” Now, the tables were turned; I was the listener and that’s exactly what happened to me. Here are some of those words:
“When I was a Cub Scout, the King Tut exhibit was at a museum in New Orleans. The lines were two hours long to get in, and people were rushed to see the art. As a Cub Scout, I volunteered to pick up trash around the museum in exchange for skipping to the front of the line. When I entered the museum, I took a wrong turn and found myself in a room of Flemish artists. I was alone. I could spend all the time in the world looking at the paintings. Being in that room inspired me.” – I know just how you felt, Mo. You have to really look at art in order to see.
“My book is a dead book until you make it come alive. YOU make my books come alive.” – Yes, Mo. I will read your books with the passion you put into the words and illustrations. I promise I will make your books come alive.
“As a child I always liked coloring books. I loved the lines. I had my pack of Crayola crayons and wondered- why isn’t there a black crayon in the box?” – Yes, Sandra, why wasn’t there a black one? Your illustrations are lines.
“My father was a teacher at a Quaker school in Philadelphia. There was always student’s art hanging on the walls. I remember that. It made me feel good.” – I’ll always have children’s art hanging in the hallway, displayed like masterpieces, Sandra.
“As a child I remember my father’s workshop. I was fascinated watching him work and create. When I was eighteen, I won a scholarship to study at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I had never been in a museum before. Never. And now, they have purchased one of my paintings. Imagine that.” – What a story, Jerry. Your picture books keep fairy tales alive for children.
“My inspiration was painters of the American Scene in the 20’s and 30’s, particularly Thomas Hart Benton. He drew with a homegrown drawing style. To me, his work had soul.” – And your work is much like his, Loren.
“I was born and raised in Kentucky. There were educators along the way I remember. One was Mr. Pennington. He was the football coach and looked just like Mean Joe Green with a big afro. I couldn’t make the football team. One day I was sitting in his class and I heard him say my name. I slouched down in my chair, and I heard him say my name again. When I looked up he was showing my art and talking about me. He was the art teacher.” – I will forever hold children’s art in high esteem, and displayed for the all the world to see, Loren.
“I remember the time I went to a nursing home to give a presentation. I asked the residents to close their eyes. ‘Do you remember a book that was read to you as a child?’ Everyone raised their hand. Keeping their eyes closed I asked, ‘Now, do you remember who read it to you?’ Again, all hands went up. And finally I asked, ‘Do you remember how it made you feel?’ Every hand went up. Everyone smiled. Ninety years later, people still remember that feeling.” – Thank you, Loren. What an empowering story. I know children in my class remember the stories I read. More importantly, they remember feeling good and often return to visit.
“I liked to draw Dinosaurs when I was a child. I was obsessed with them.” – Thank you, Tony, for being the perfect moderator and host. I was delighted to show you Isabelle’s writing from first grade, “I want to be a cat and flâneur all around.” She remembered that word from Diva and Flea, nine months after I read her the book.
“I was lucky to visit Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. She had posted pictures on her bedroom wall. There were movie stars, and there were also pictures of chimpanzees having a tea party. Imagine that! I found those pictures fascinating. I remember a green umbrella as a child. Memories are so important to imagination. And when I painted an umbrella for a book, of course it was green.” – Thank you for asking me the first book I remembered as a child. It was “The Five Chinese Brothers”, with the sideways page of the brother who could stretch his legs. I loved that book. Your simple question brought me a flood of memories. I will always ask children questions when I read books, like Finding Winnie (one of the best). Thank you, Sophie.
Robin Preiss Glasser:
“I draw women from within, the way they feel, not just how they look. I had a Troll Doll as a child and dressed it up with fancy clothes. (Robin brought along her childhood Troll Doll with bright pink hair.) I think that inspired my imagination and my Fancy Nancy books.” – Yes, Robin! Drawing what you see on the inside, feelings and attitude and emotion, make an enormous difference in art, particularly for children.
“When I get the text of the book, I respond to the inspiration of the words in the text. I listen for the musicality of the text.” – Words are music, they speak to the heart and soul. They inspire us. When I read aloud, I will read those words in the way the writer intended; with abandon, or reverence, or silliness… I will give the words music.
“I loved drawing Star Wars characters when I was a child. I had a pen I loved to draw with. I’m a line painter, not a form painter, and this pen really worked for me. When I met David Small, I was spellbound. I gave him my pen. Later, I learned that he told others about that pen, the best ever. Wow! Children tell me, ‘I know you drew me!’ I don’t see the color of children when I paint. I see the child.” –Your vision of children in this world is beautiful. Thank you for reflecting that young children are not encumbered with the world’s problems, and are eager picture book readers.
“I loved ballet as a child. I was inspired by dance.” – Your enthusiasm gives teachers and readers aloud the inspiration to make a difference. Really. Thank you, Laurie.
This is but a sampling of the panel discussion. Thank you to all for your inspiration! And, thank you to the Eric Carle Museum for having this event.