A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Ted Lewin (Peppe the Lamplighter, Stable), Susan Terris (The Latchkey Kids), Giulio Maestro (A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution), and Barbara McClintock (Dahlia).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Randall Jarrell (1914-1965), The Gingerbread Rabbit, and Judy Delton (1931-2001), Pee Wee Scouts series.
- Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychiatry was born on this day. Read Sigmund Freud by Kathleen Krull.
- Itâ€™s national No Homework Day. Read No More Homework! No More Tests! by Bruce Lansky, illustrated by Stephen Carpenter, and The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman.
Born on May 6, 1914, Randall Jarrell did not publish his first childrenâ€™s book until he was fifty. By that time he had established himself as one of Americaâ€™s premiere poets for adults and was also renowned for his brilliant literary criticism. Michael di Capua, then at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, lured Jarrell into childrenâ€™s books by requesting that he translate a Grimm fairy tale for children.
Before he died in 1965, Jarrell finished three illustrated books â€“ The Gingerbread Rabbit, with art by Garth Williams, and Fly By Night and The Bat Poet, both illustrated by Maurice Sendak. In 1965 he published The Animal Family, a short novella that contains some of the most beautiful writing for children in the English language.
To understand what a writer can do when he follows that E. B. White precept â€śsimplify, simplify, simplify,â€ť you should pick up The Animal Family. In a timeless landscape, which could have come out of a Grimm tale, a hunter lives alone in a forest near the ocean. Gently, slowly, he begins to befriend the creatures around him and build his own community and family. A mermaid comes to live with him, although she often heads back to her own people and the watery kingdom that she knows. Then the hunter finds and brings home a bear and lynx cub. Finally, the animals locate a boy whose mother has just died, and the infant rounds out this beautiful group that live together because of bonds of love and affection.
So brilliantly, so simply, does Jarrell describe these events, that readers feel as if they have entered a dream and do not necessarily want to leave it. He opens the saga with the words, â€śSay what you like, but such things do happenâ€”not often, but they do happen.â€ť As a poet, Jarrell works out the cadence of each word, each paragraph. Nothing extraneous has been allowed to intrude on this simple tale.
The book can be used to discuss the nature of family and how we can build community with those around us that we love. But even more important, it reminds us that the best writing for children has been polished and edited and polished again. Enhanced by Maurice Sendakâ€™s decorations and a thoughtful design that gives lots of room for the text on the page, The Animal Family is both beautiful to look at and exquisite to read.
On his birthday, I am grateful for the books Randall Jarrell wrote for childrenâ€”they set the bar for fine writing for children when they were published and they remain the standard bearers for craft almost fifty years later.
Hereâ€™s a passage from The Animal Family:
The bearâ€™s wet nose was cold and shiny, and he stuck it into everything. He had beautiful furâ€”it was denser and shinier than the bearskin on the bed, evenâ€”and it wasnâ€™t black but a soft deep brown. The palms of his paws were as pink as a manâ€™s palms, but fringed with five little gray-blue, steely claws; he had one special log that he liked to sharper them on. The mermaid would feel them and marvel that their pet had such hard sharp claws.
Originally posted May 6, 2012. Updated for .