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: