Saturday, January 22, 2011

Peter H. Reynolds

There are some picture books by certain authors which capture one's heart, tug it along a journey that is personal. When these authors illustrate with dexterity, I experience these books with great happiness. There is something lovely about books that are written and illustrated by the same person. There is a cohesiveness to every page as the illustrations and words flow into one another with ease. Peter H. Reynolds is one such wonderful author & illustrator.

We first came across his book Ish. It was love at first sight for the whole family - as Ish told us that that art is not perfect, perspective matters and it is important to enjoy and keep on trying. When we first read it, it made us wonder how the author could translate our own personal experiences into his book. How did he make what was probably personal to him, personal to his readers as well?

After Ish, I started chasing his books. His simple words and equally simple line drawings with a powerful message has continued to ensnare us into his world and make it our own world.

Someday is an ode to the love of mothers. The book is written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. The book is written from the point of view of a mother who watches her daughter grow up from a baby to a child to an adult to a mother with her own baby. This book again turned out to be very personal for our family. When we relate this book to our daughter, her eyes light up and she automatically relates the story to herself and her mom. She thinks the mother in the book is her own mom. She acts out every emotion that is described in this book.

There are a few pages that I keep returning to - "Someday I will stand on this porch and watch your arms waving to me until I no longer see you." This line is written on a double page layout with a picture of a sad mom standing on the porch on the left most side of the double page. If the line did not convey the shrinking world of the mom in this picture, whole double page with its placement of the picture and long line of words that span the pages does. The next page adds to the poignancy of the moment from the point of view of the daughter. It has a picture of a distant home on the top left corner of the double page spread with words that say - "Someday you will look at this house and wonder how something that feels so big can look so small". The bottom corner of the page shows a young adult girl turning back as she walks aways through the nether regions of the white page. I wonder about the use of the word 'house' instead of 'home' in that statement. At that point of time for the young girl, it is no longer a home, she is going out to conquer the world and the home is distant and small. It is a house now, which was a home for many years. She has left the nest.

Rose's Garden is a picture book inspired by and dedicated to late Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. It is also a story similar to The Curious Garden. It is based on true garden between massive concrete in Boston - The Rose Kennedy Greenway. Rose, a traveler with a fantastic teapot, collects seeds from her various travels and decides to settle down in a big city next to sea. She finds a patch that needs color; she decides to plant her seeds in this dull neighborhood. Her seeds are eaten away by birds, but it does not deter Rose. She plants the remaining seeds and continues to keep a vigil, almost cajoling the seeds to grow and add some color to the place. The various kids watch her keep the vigil and start providing the much needed color by providing colorful paper flowers. She plants the paper flowers next to her seeds and Voila! - soon she is flooded with beautiful flowers from children around the area - both paper flowers and real ones. The neighborhood turns colorful.

The pages are initially laid out in grey and muted colors. And slowly as the story progress and the flowers start blooming, the layout of the pages change and color spring out of the pages. Albeit a wonderful book, it did not connect to me at the same emotional level as say Ish, Someday or The North Star. Let me hasten to say, the book has his trademark illustration - simple and elegant. The words are sparse and to the point as always.

The North Star had provided directions to sailors for ages and it is used as a allegory in this wonderful book - The North Star. This is probably one of his books that contains the core idea behind most of his other books too - "Follow your(not others) ideas and dreams". Deeply personal again, the book urges each one of us to follow our own North Star to find our happiness.

A boy wakes up and starts walking around, enjoying himself and curious. He is rudely interrupted by a fast moving rabbit running away past a notice board. He notices a board that says - 'This Way'. He follows the directions and sees more notice boards that keeps him pointing towards the directions that he has to take. In between, he tries to chose a different path from the one that the direction board points out; but is quietly and firmly pointed back to the direction that he has to keep up with. Slowly and quietly he understands that he needs to follow his own path - not the one that the directions are pointing him towards or the one that others have taken earlier. He chooses his own North Star.

As Peter H. Reynolds says in his website, this book is a tribute to "off-the path thinking" and urges the readers, young and old, to rethink their life and their path. Minimalist in his lines, colors and words, this book is a powerful reminder for us to re-think the directions of our life. It would probably affect the adult more than the kid. A wonderful gift for any kid, a reminder to them that they need not follow the herd and can be independent. A book that they might come back to again and again for years.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost

Peter H Reynolds is an author who travels his own road and produces some of the wonderful picture books present out there.


sandhya said...

A wonderful compilation, Satish. We have Rose's Garden, and I agree with all you say. Except that A connected to it a lot. They have been doing a lot about the environment at school, and we had also read some books about war and it's aftermath. The book therefore resonated quite a bit as she associated the initial greyness with the surroundings being laid waste- following up with the profusion of life after Rose's efforts.
The other books sound like a must read, and will certainl;y look out for them.

artnavy said...

Sounds wonderful- need to get some here.

sathish said...

Sandhya, ArtNavy, Thank you.

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