My family didn’t go to art museums when I was a kid, so my first exposure to art was through picture books. I am forever grateful to my parents taking me to our public library every weekend to check out big bags of books.
I was an early reader, but I also spent a lot of time studying the images in books I loved. Picture books were my first visual education. I felt like I could live inside certain books because of the illustration.
My first exposure to fine art was through a program in which our local art museum created a lending library of copies of some their best-known pieces, and loaned them out in rotation to local elementary schools. I remember asking permission to go to the bathroom and then sneaking down the hallway to study the art without a crowd of kids around me. I got caught once, which only upped the thrill factor. At the end of the year we got to go to the actual art museum in third grade and see this Rembrandt I had "lived with" for a month in real life.
Even as an eight year old, I realized the rest of the kids thought this was a boring field trip. I, however, just wanted to fall into the glazing on that painting. (True confession: I still tear up when I see this painting in reproduction. It’s not the best Rembrandt, but it’s mine.)
Also in third grade, illustrator Ariane Dewey visited our school and showed us the uncut proof sheets for ANOTHER MOUSE TO FEED. I was thunderstruck to discover that actual, living people created books. That drawing pictures for books was an actual job you could get as a grown-up. Best. Job. Ever. (I still think that.) After that visit, I hunted down all of Dewey’s books at my local library and studied them. Her loose line and simple yet expressive faces have stayed with me (for free!)
During this season, I want to offer my gratitude to all of the librarians and museum docents who introduce kids to literature, and art. You open the door to knowledge for all kids, not just the ones whose parents can afford to buy books and art. It's a pretty important job, and one that often doesn't get enough credit (or pay!)
And now, my gift to you. For your entertainment, I have hunted down some of the books I often checked out of my local public library as a kid, and re-read them:
BUSY, BUSY TOWN by Richard Scarry
I have probably read this book a couple thousand times from my own preschool readings to reading to my preschoolers. So it is deep within my subconscious that the best writers and artists make work for children.
Adult reaction: The book is uncomfortable for the adult reader, with all the leaking pipes and car accidents. Why do we still not have apple cars in 2017? However, I can appreciate this propaganda on a whole new level.
THE LONELY DOLL by Dare Wright
I was drawn to this book before I could read because of the photo staging and pink gingham of the cover. But I was hooked on the darkness and strangeness of the story. My local public library had two copies of this book. I would return one and check out the other.
Adult reaction: This book is even stranger and darker than I remember. And the sequels... I wonder if Cindy Sherman will ever do kid lit?
IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN by Maurice Sendak
I used to wish that I too would fall into a jug of milk in the middle of the night and be turned into a cake. Who doesn’t want to be in a cake? Or better yet, be part of an edible airplane? So funny in daylight, and such a terrifying dream world at night.
Adult reaction: Terrifying. But so cute! But... terrifying. I think I may have nightmares tonight.
Also, OUTSIDE OVER THERE
There are actual baby-stealing goblins in this book. I hoped goblins would steal my baby brother, but it never happened. But oh, the drawing in this book. I remember tracing it with my finger, wishing that someday I’d be able to draw like that.
Adult reaction: I still can’t put this book down. It’s so beautiful and it gives me chills. Maybe someday I'll be able to draw like that.
There are so many other books that have inspired me in my journey to become an author-illustrator. I’m lucky enough that now, as an adult, I can buy books that I love to read and re-read. But I still visit the library, because I love the experience of browsing the shelves and finding what might be a new friend. And also, I don’t have the unlimited budget that my reading habit could use. It is so wonderful that I can walk into my local library and borrow as many books as I can read in a month for free. That is something worthy of gratitude every day!