A Very Short Tale of a Curious Boy and the Children's Librarian's Legs
I'm Not Quite Miss Rumphius and this is the blog for the Children's Department at North York Central Library. Welcome back!
Sometimes, so the saying goes, it's not the destination that counts. It's the journey and what we see along the way that really matters. That was the case for me one day recently here in the Children's Department.
My destination: The shelf in the picture book section containing a Thomas the Tank Engine book that a mother had requested for her son. The journey along the way? Well, let's just say it involved pantyhose. My pantyhose.
Those? Those -- what? As I stopped and looked down, trying to figure out what exactly he was pointing at, he spoke again. This time he was more insistent: "What are THOSE?"
Some grownups, probably the boy's parents, drew closer to see what we were talking about. A baby toddled over on two unsteady legs, looked around, then kept on going.
Pantyhose -- it seemed the boy was asking about my pantyhose.
I pointed down. "These?" I said. "These are PANTYHOSE!" (His enthusiastic tone was catching.) Too late, I realized that my voice was louder than I intended.
Several other grownups drifted over to us, drawn by the sounds of our conversation. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the baby wobbling back toward us.
The boy reached out to touch my leg, then drew back quickly as if he might get a shock. He looked puzzled.
"Are they like ... SOCKS?" he said.
All eyes were on me.
"Well ... KIND OF!" I replied.
Satisfied, the boy ran off as quickly as he'd appeared. I picked up the Thomas book and brought it back to the mom who was waiting for it. And that was that ... at least for the moment.
The journey not the destination, seeing the world with fresh eyes, it's the little things that count -- all of those things and more -- are themes that run through many books for children, including two wonderful picture books.
The first book, published in 1999, is this under-appreciated gem:
Mimmy and her little sister, Sophie, are two girls growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn. Their family doesn't have much money, but Mimmy and Sophie don't mind. Everything the girls do -- whether it's trying to get the prize-winning Popsicle that contains the Lucky Stick, going for a ride on the trolley car or planning the perfect summer vacation -- is a grand adventure, beautifully captured in Thomas F. Yezerski's old-fashioned, retro-looking illustrations.
Wide-eyed Sophie longs to visit a fantastical place she calls Babyland but the only vacation the girls' family can afford is a simple day trip to the Brooklyn Bridge. That trip turns out to be better than the girls could ever have imagined.
They enjoy a delicious picnic lunch on the bridge, track down Sophie's dolly after she goes missing, and, finally at the end of the day, they watch the sun set together. Here's what that moment looks like through Mimmy and Sophie's eyes:
The sun was a melting raspberry Popsicle on the water. The sky got more and more beautiful. It was like Momma's good blue silk dress with little stars pinned all over it.
"Oooh, a teeny airplane!" shouted Mimmy. She was so excited.
The same sense of wonder at commonplace things is also found in this brand-new picture book about world-famous zoologist Jane Goodall:
As you might guess from reading the title, this is a rather unusual biography of Jane Goodall. The cover is designed to look like a leather-trimmed scrapbook, while inside there are reproductions of Jane's childhood drawings and sketches, along with some personal photos of her taken when she was young. All of this adds to the sense of seeing Jane up close and getting to know her as a child.
But there's another level to this book, a level that has nothing to do with the story of a famous person. This book is also a reminder of the ways in which a child's (any child's) curiosity can carry them all the way through life and literally change the course of that life.
One of the key moments in this book happens when young Jane wonders where eggs come from. She decides to sneak into her grandmother's chicken coop to find out more. Here's what happens:
(Jane) hid behind some straw, stayed very still ... and observed the miracle.
It was a magical world full of joy and wonder, and Jane felt very much part of it.
It takes a special writer to use the words "miracle," "magical," "joy," and "wonder" all in one breath without sounding ironic, cynical or over-the-top. Patrick McDonnell is one of those writers. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's also the illustrator of this book. He uses his quirky, playful line drawings to show us the importance of what Jane has just seen.
After the chicken and egg moment, Mr. McDonnell draws Jane outdoors, stretched out on the grass, her delighted face turned up to the sky, with the chicken and newly-hatched chicks nearby.
The little girl in this picture is not Jane Goodall, famous person. At this moment, she's just an ordinary person who is in love with the world around her and what she has just seen. It's a case where the right picture really is worth many, many words.
And a final note about both the books I've mentioned ...
Copies of Me ... Jane are currently arriving at various branches of the library. If you request it soon, you may be lucky enough to get your hands on a brand-new, never-before-read copy of the book. Just imagine ... New book, great story ... Who says you can't have it all?
As for Mimmy & Sophie, there is also a sequel to the first book. It's called Mimmy and Sophie All Around the Town. While the stories in both books are good, the first "Mimmy" book has a larger format with more illustrations, all in color, making it the best one to enjoy first.
Not Quite Miss Rumphius