I was just watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty again. My current favourite comfort film, this story of taking leaps of faith and jumping off into the world reminded me of my other favourite story:
TITLE: The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2014)
This is the story of a small rotund nameless creature waiting to become somebody's imaginary friend. He is sad, because in the beginning of the book it seems everyone finds a friend and gets a name for themselves, besides him. It takes a certain amount of bravery to sail off into the real world, but this is what he does.
The colours used in this book do a lot of the heavy work. As soon as the setting changes to the real world, colours become instantly muted, with only pops of colour from other imaginary creatures who have already found their place. Our hero is white with a golden yellow crown, sticky taped together at the back. I love that he has made himself this crown. He's not losing hope. He keeps striving and searching, climbing to the top of a tree for a better view. Just when he may be about to lose hope, a magical thing occurs.
When I first moved to America, I had to give up a job that I had fought to get. I felt a bit rudderless, and quite a lot apprehensive. However I kept positive. I volunteered at a bilingual school and when that didn't feel right, I applied for a job at a different school. I got that job, but was unable to take it. That's when I met a group of friends at the Center for Teaching Through Children's Books in Chicago. These people are my people, and I love them dearly. It took a certain amount of bravery to start going to meetings and then a larger amount of bravery to start going to ALA, NCTE and IBBY conferences, but like Beekle I just kept going. I became Magic Food Fairy of the Caldecott Committee in 2015, and magically, this is how I met Beekle.
Look under the gold-stickered dust jacket and you will find a different front cover (pictured above). It's a much simpler picture than the one on the dust jacket, but to me it more accurately captures the feeling of the book. Lines of lightness and shadow imitate life and the way that feelings and attitudes can change even within the very same day. Beekle stands at the front, looking straight out from the book. The outlines of buildings and clouds and bus stop seem almost incidental to the beautiful patchwork of patterns in this picture of dark and light.
If you don't already know what's on the back cover under the dust jacket then I won't ruin the surprise. Suffice to say that these front and back covers, in addition to the end papers that tell the story of Beekle lost and Beekle found, really make this book very special. I believe there is an audio version of Beekle which I haven't listened to yet, but to my mind this book is best appreciated at a snail's pace, free from jarring page-turn pings that would propel you through the book. If you hurried too much you might miss the serendipitous twist. Again, if you don't know what this twist is already, go back and read the book again - slower this time.
I am at a time in my life right at the moment I'm trying too hard. Like Beekle I am running here and there and searching for something that I won't know until I find it. However, I am happy to be having the adventures I've found along the way.
This delightful book about an absolutely perfect little mouse, Chrysanthemum, deals in hugs and kisses (and Parcheesi) as ways to combat the slings and arrows of teasing at school. The amount of love in this book is simply tremendous - from home cooked food to cuddles and consultations with parenting manuals such as "The Inner Mouse Vol 1. Childhood Anxiety". Even the music teacher Mrs. Twinkle and her heavily pregnant belly ooze the love that we hope all children have in their lives.
It's a sweet story, but it was my friend's back story about it that warmed my heart even more. New to Japan and heavily pregnant, she and her husband had only decided on two names for their triplets they had thought to be twins. The doctors settled on a date for the C-section, the ninth of September. The ninth day of the ninth month happens to be Chrysanthemum Festival in Japan, Kiku no Sekku in Japanese. Kiku (Chrysanthemum) is also a girls name, so my friend wanted to call her third daughter Kiku. However, her husband explained that Kiku is a name like "Doris" or "Mabel" - hopelessly old fashioned and worthy of teasing at school. My friend acquiesced trusting her Japanese husband's judgement, and they settled on another beautiful name - one in fact that is written using the kanji character for "beauty". The story of Chrysanthemum and its relation to the family legend soon became entwined.
As for my friend and her daughters, they too are looking for survival skills. All five of them are strong and vibrant women, bruised terribly by recent events but with all the personality traits they will need going forward. The solid bedrock of parenting they've had over the years, the many laps and the many books, all the memories are clear and present for the time being. This morning I spent a couple of hours bringing all of these picture books back onto the living room shelves, not only for future grandchildren but also as a reminder that while life can be devastating, there can be joy in the cracks.
An Australian who lived in Japan with my bicultural family now living in the USA, I believe that there are more different realities than there are books to be written.