Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 6, 2008

More Hideouts, and SHOW AND TELL by Dilys Evans

It was fun to hear about more of your secret gardens – or trees or crammed places between the refrigerator and the counter: all these writers starting out as quiet observers of life around us. I wanted to be Harriet the Spy, and my friend Lynn and I brought our notepads to the drug store, where we bought cokes and waited for something interesting to happen. We gave up on real life pretty fast. Making up the “real stories” as we walked between our houses or in the woods behind them seemed more of a thrill.

Of course we were fed not only by Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew but many other books. And your comments were in my mind when I read SHOW AND TELL: EXPLORING THE FINE ART OF CHILDREN’S BOOK ILLUSTRATION by Dilys Evans. I loved this quote from her introduction: Children’s books “are one of the few quiet places left where a child can go to be alone, and to travel worlds past, present, and future. They are often the first place children discover poetry and art, honor and loyalty, right and wrong, sadness and hope. And it is there between the pages that children discover the power of their own imagination. They are indeed a dress rehearsal for life.”

Dilys Evans, an agent for Fine Illustration, is also a great writer: you feel how much she cares about the mood conveyed by a line or cross-hatching; she puts drama in the stories of lives, while her essays use the artwork as the crest of a life’s wave, keeping other parts more obscured, like dark water. She shows how some childhood passions shaped careers. Many illustrators also began, like us, loving dark or shaded but safe places, looking out at the light and bustle. Trina Schart Hyman, perhaps best known for her evocative, romantic renditions of fairy tales, loved to parade about as Little Red Riding Hood. Every day for a year. Brian Selznick loved Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and used to make little tables and chairs for them from old spools, then put his early interest in theater into his drawing. Lane Smith’s mom was an antique dealer who worked with decoupage and collages; of course Smith’s work continues to involve the look of artful cut and paste. Denise Fleming would drag back big refrigerator boxes from an appliance store and build villages. Now she says, “I’m interested in exactly the same things I was interested in as a kid.”

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