1. I would create books that are childhood favorites.
Some people read Goodnight, Moon until they think they will go batty.* Chicka Chicka Boom Boom** (by Bill Martin, Jr.) was that kind of book for us. My kids LOVED it when the letters all came crashing down. (Don’t worry; although some got injured in the making of the book [see D, E, and F above], it’s all good in the end.)
2. I would be a maker of fun, creative, playful books for children.
A few years back, I attended a conference for writers and illustrators of children’s books. Here’s what I loved about that conference: Unlike many such events for the writers of literary, adult fare, this talk of this conference seemed focus on the audience. It wasn’t so much about personal expression as it was about connecting with kids.
I don’t know if that is why the attendees of that conference were such a different crowd than the writers I’d encountered at literary events, but they were. I felt a comfort there like I’ve never felt in any other group of creatives. They were unpretentious and warm and generous. I felt as if I’d found my people.
Although I create for selfish reasons (I think we all do), I’ve found I can’t stick with it unless I’m doing it for someone else. And can I tell you, I’ve never met any adult who relishes and delights in story the way children do. Watching story time is the absolute favorite part of my job.*** I would so love to write a book for children and be the person who creates the kind of excitement in story I’ve only ever seen in children.
3. I would have a deeper relationship with my world.
This post was inspired by this book, my latest book indulgence. (You can find it here.***) In it, Ehlert talks about how everything in the world is potential material for her work. When she goes for a walk, she’s looking at the world with an eye to all the visual possibilities inherent in the things that cross her path–leaves, spent pea pods, a cherry tomato.
Such looking creates a different sort of relationship with the world, something I’ve had with writing at various times in my life.
4. I would be a generous artist.
I love the way Ehlert lays her process open for readers, so we can see that art doesn’t happen by magic. It is clear in Scraps that art comes from watching and playing and planning and doing. She demystifies the process by showing us how she takes inspiration from the world, and then how she turns that inspiration into stories and gorgeous collage illustrations. We get to see drafts and notes and sketches.
Too often, I think, we act as if there can be only so much creative success in the world. I believe there is enough for all of us to have some. It seems Ehlert does, too.
5. I would work to expand others’ notions of what artistic expression is.
In another of Ehlers’s books, Hands: Growing Up to Be an Artist, she writes about how fortunate she was to grow up with parents who used their hands (which she also writes about in Scraps). (The second image above comes from that book.) Her father built things, and her mother gardened and sewed, and both provided Ehlert with her own work space and scraps of materials to create with. I love her message that all such creative work is part of artistic creation.
6. I would exude happiness.
Doesn’t she look like a happy person? I know there is much more to a successful career as a children’s book writer/illustrator than simply playing with bits of paper all day long, but I think that getting to spend a large portion of one’s time playing with bits of paper might make me smile like that, too. 🙂
How about you?
If you could be any writer or artist, who would you be? If I had to choose only one, I don’t know if I could. But Lois Ehlert would definitely be on my list.
Oh, and I almost forgot…
Ehlert has been a source of inspiration and instruction as I continue to work on my Valentine for Cane:
13 thoughts on “6 Reasons I want to be Lois Ehlert when I grow up”
Favorite childhood authors? I can’t even. “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book” was probably the first book I remember having read to me and it always made me laugh. I was so lucky to have a second grade teacher for a mom – she did the BEST read-a-louds. Another that she read to me that always stuck in my head was “Stone Fox”. We had so many Tomie dePaola books (and even an autographed print from one) because she LOVED his books and his art. I was kind of meh about them, but Violet LOVES them. If I had to pick a book based on art – I’d have to go with Eric Carle. I loved reading them to the kids (Abram still likes them) because the rhythm is soothing and I love how the painted paper/collage style of his art.
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Oh, I could talk books all day long too! My absolute favourite part of parenthood has been reading to my kids. Goodnight Moon was one of our ritual bedtime books (along with some others, such as Goodnight Gorilla and Sandra Boynton’s The Going to Bed Book). My kids loved Barbara Reid’s Zoe books (we have the wordless editions) – her illustrations, done in clay, are absolutely amazing! And they loved Chicka-chicka-boom-boom too, although I always had to slightly wreck it by saying “zed”, thus losing out on the final rhyme! I always loved the illustrations in the Mr. Putter and Tabby books, and they had such funny and gentle stories that my kids appreciated. Eric Carle, Jan Brett, Kevin Henkes, the Jesse Bear books by Nancy White Carlstrom…there’re way too many to mention! Oh, this is bringing back such happy memories for me!!!
On the subject of libraries and librarians…our old elementary school in Minnesota had a full-time librarian, and it was wonderful to see the kids gathered around her for story-time. I know teachers can, and do, take the opportunity to do that in the classroom, but in my mind, the more stories kids can have read to them, the better. It’s a shame that budget cuts have affected libraries so profoundly. Our school here in Ontario has a librarian who is only in the library 10% of his time. There’s no story time at all, and teachers merely bring students in to exchange books 🙁
You’re so right – Lois Ehlert does look like such a happy person! I would be smiling like that too, if I were living my dream-come-true, and getting to spend my days creating books (for me, it would be writing novels!).
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I can recite just about every Sandra Boynton book from memory. All the Hippos Go Berserk and Not the Hippopotamus are my faves . We are Italian and have most of the Tomie DePaola books. I haaated the book Hug by Jez Alborough. I wanted to shoot myself every time we read it. Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss really speaks to me at this particular point in my life and I love reading it. Anything by Mo Willems.
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Abe just got into Chicka Chicka Boom Boom recently. He’s very particular. He also let me read all of “Alfie’s Feet” to him the other day, which pleased me. I am a huge Shirley Hughes fan. Which reminds me that I looked for and couldn’t find our copy of George the Babysitter the other day, and that I need to either go look some more or track down another copy.
I loved reading Judy Blume when I was a kid. I had younger brothers so liked Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and later read Blubber and Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and Just As Long As We’re Together. I also read and reread The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe and pestered my parents to watch the movie version on PBS, but I don’t think that we did.
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I love Ehlert’s work too! I think my favorite is Eating the Alphabet, though we also have one called Market Day featuring a bunch of folk art objects that is really amazing. She does look like a happy person! I liked getting to know her better through this post. And the wonderful thing is, pretty much all 6 of your reasons to be Lois Ehlert are within your reach as Rita. Just sayin’.
Oh, children’s books! Some of my own childhood favorites that I’ve loved introducing my daughter to are Amy’s Goose, Over and Over, and the All-of-a-Kind Family books. Tragically, she does not seem to appreciate The Hundred Dresses the way she ought to. She is about old enough to read The Fledgling though!
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When my boys were little we had Eating the Alphabet on our shelf. For night time we loved “Kiss Goodnight, Sam” by Amy Hest, and “Grandfather Twilight” by Barbara Helen Berger. For sillies we loved a series about twin sheep called Boo and Baa, by Olaf and Lena Landstrom. We also loved “Dinosaur Bob,” by William Joyce, and everything Frog and Toad. And while the kids weren’t so crazy about it, just ask me to recite “Sixteen Cows,” by Lisa Wheeler: “Cowboy Gene was long and lean, hair of red and eyes of green….” 🙂
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One of my favorite things to do with my kids is read books. We check out our limit at the library each week and read them all. I love Lucy Cousins and Mo Willems: both are simple but very entertaining.
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg
Some of my favorites growing up: The Best Nest, Baby Dear (Little Golden Books), Dick and Jane (oh, the thrill of learning to read), and I would get the Ed Emberley books out of the library all of the time!
This post just has my brain chattering. First, I love her work…exposed my kids to her art at every chance. For me, my kiddie lit love is Eric Carle. I have shamelessly mentioned my love for him in my blog several times. It’s as close to fangirl as I get! Their styles are quite similar. I have to throw in Ezra Jack Keats as well. Discovering his section on the shelf in my elementary school library is my most vivid memory of first grade. I could walk straight to that section today. I still collage today all because of the way he sent my imagination soaring. Oh, my gosh. I am going to have to go dig out Whistle for Willie today!…Peter’s Chair…sigh!
Next, I am going to have to find Lois’s scraps book for my very own. Is that not the sweetest photo of her parents? I would love to see her transfer that into her art.
Finally, our school budget cuts have been making national news as our governor lives in Kansas circa 1952 and has been turning back the clock legislatively so we can all join him there. For the final quarter of the school year, we were literally getting regular emails telling us if there was paper that week for the copy machine. It is the interventionists and specialists that got the axe mainly in our district. But–oh, schools without vital, stimulating libraries? Hurts my heart.
Pinning this with a message to my kids!
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Ezra Jack Keats (Snowy Day!) and Eric Carle are both big favorites of mine, too. (Don’t know how many times I read The Very Busy Spider to my kids.) It was so nice to read all your comments, May. Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply in any way. Been on a bit of a rollercoaster the past year. I’m so sorry to hear about the budget cuts in Kansas. School libraries have been taking a hit in most of the country. I’ve been in buildings that get the same message about copy paper, too! Isn’t that just ridiculous?