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Monday, September 19, 2022

Did the author write this book just for me?

September field, Leelanau County

Ah, September! It can really break your heart, can’t it? And so can books, even – maybe especially – the ones we love most. 


In my high school French classes, every year the teacher (different teacher, different years) urged us to read The Little Prince. It was like English teachers urging us to read (actually, this latter book was assigned reading, and I still skipped it) The Red Badge of Courage, but I was the quiet rebel in the back of the room, resisting what seemed like such common coin. If everyone read it, I didn’t want to. I wanted to discover my own books, thank you very much! Eventually, years later, I finally picked up The Little Prince and couldn’t believe I’d denied myself such an exquisite gift for so long. 


Sometimes I called my late husband, the Artist, “the little prince.” He was an only child, after all, adored and indulged by his doting mother, who was quite thoroughly “wrapped around his little finger,” as the old, trite saying goes. The youngest in his generation of cousins, many of whom were already teenagers when he was born, he was doted upon by those girls, too. Their real, live little doll! He learned quickly that charm was a winning formula, as in the church pageant when he had failed to learn his Bible verse and stood on stage grinning and twirling his new tie and saying to the congregation (instead of the assigned Bible verse), “See what I got for Christmas?” They loved it! So I would tell him that he was “the little prince” or, alternatively, “Fate’s little darling.” Not that the life of my Artist or any artist is ever be financially easy, but he knew what really mattered, and he drew love to him, always. His gift for friendship and for conversations on important topics (see again The Little Prince) made him unforgettable.


Last winter in our mountain cabin, I handed David an English translation of the St.-Exupéry classic, and he had time to read enough of the first few pages, before another hospital trip intervened, so he could understand why I thought he was that little prince, as well as a little prince – and why I had felt like that little prince myself reading it and why he and I were so drawn to each other and so happy together. The pilot gave up his dream of becoming a painter, but the Artist never did, despite countless material sacrifices necessary to gain the dream's reality. But a drive from Kalamazoo to Galesburg for thrift shopping and coffee with him was, I told one of his friends years ago, more wonderful, I'm sure, than some people's trips to Paris: Our conversations could be adventures in themselves.

Conversations – about things that mattered! And that laughter! I have stars that laugh!

Whenever I said "asters," he would say, "Lady Astor's horse."

When Lynne Rae Perkins’s book about squirrels having adventures was published, the Artist was amused to hear me recommending it to adults until one day he happened into the bookstore while I was reading aloud from Nuts to You! “Is that the squirrel story you were talking about?” he asked. Of course he got it! Can you think for a moment that he wouldn't have?


No wonder, then, that I would think of him while reading Violet & Jobie in the Wild. (Actually, it’s no wonder that I think of him whatever I do, is it?) What I didn’t expect were all the accumulating passages and similarities in Violet’s story and mine the further I got into the story. I'll share just three with you.


When Zolian recounts to Violet his flight in the owl’s talons, immediately I thought of the Artist’s flight by helicopter from Willcox, Arizona, to a larger hospital in the Phoenix area. He said of that flight, still thrilled the next day, “It was transcendent!” and when I think of it now, I think, He had that -- and loved it!


Zolian wanted to see once again the morning flight of sandhill cranes. The Artist and I went many times to Whitewater Draw in Cochise County, Arizona, or, closer to our winter ghost town cabin, to Twin Lakes outside Willcox to see sandhill cranes in flight. You hear them long before you see them, and they circle for ages, it seems, high in the sky, only gradually coming to water and earth. The cranes were always transporting to hear and see.

Then on one page came the words (I could scarcely believe it) “Easy peasy”! 

Our little Peasy

There was more, but….


Disclaimer: This is not a book review. In case you have not already figured it out, I cannot be objective about a book that touches me so very deeply and seems so personally directed at the deepest moments of my own life. But that has always been the wonder of the best children’s books! 

Doesn’t every girl who ever read Little Women feel that she is Jo March? Doesn’t every boy or girl reading The Black Stallion inhabit the character of Alec, befriending that magnificent horse on the island? Children a hundred years ago, hearing the story of “Hansel & Gretel,” must have imagined themselves surviving in the woods and narrowly escaping a hideous fate and then, thanks to the story and their own imaginations, taken courage for whatever was frightening in their own lives. 

That’s it, you see. We escape into stories, and the best don’t take us away from life but deeper into it. “Real life,” says Zolian in Violet & Jobie. “What other kind is there?” 


I hope all readers, of whatever age, who read Violet & Jobie in the Wild feel that the story was written just for them. Lynne Rae Perkins has made magic here once again for us all. Even tears can be good....

"The world: it really is such a beautiful place."


P.S. Please do not overlook the other new September book gifts from Leelanau County authors. More about these sometime in the future, I promise. 

P.P.S. And Sunny Juliet -- just because --


Karen Casebeer said...

Love your wonderful reminiscences about books and their personal pulls. And that last image of Sunny Juliet is wonderful.

Jeanie Furlan said...

What WONDERFUL stories you have that are intertwined with these great children’s books! Thank you for them - time to look into that realm!
And oh, YES! Sunny Juliet is so so pretty and growing up, too!

P. J. Grath said...

I cannot read THE LITTLE PRINCE without crying. Once I began to read aloud to David a children's book he didn't know, THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, and at a certain point I told him I couldn't go on, but he insisted that I keep going. I told him he was "torturing" me, and I finished the story sobbing my eyes out. Do you know that one, Bean?

P. J. Grath said...

Oh, and did anyone notice the treasure Sunny Juliet found that morning in the orchard? Something left behind by coyotes!!!