That Cleary eventually ended up writing children’s books feels the way the paths of a great many talented people feel: both inevitable and magical, the result of a lot of hard work mixed with a certain amount of luck. Upon becoming a librarian after school, she recalls another librarian wondering about how she could get to be so good at her job:
“Miss Remsberg also said that she did not understand why the children had liked me so much; I treated them the same way I treated adults, of course. That was the way I had wanted to be treated as a child.”
Remember, as Cleary does, it would be years before “the labels ‘teenager’ and ‘young adult’” would even be used regularly. Back then, to look at young people this way, you had to be extraordinarily interested in understanding the emotional states of an age group that was almost always overlooked. Cleary did; she had a firm grasp of the reality that children have complex inner lives, and this sensibility made her books break through.
“What constitutes a life worthy of being remembered? How do you want to be remembered?” These are the kinds of questions Amy Krouse Rosenthal always asked in her work. When Amy died this week at 51, her obituary described her as a “children’s author, memoirist, and public speaker” who found “an extraordinarily large readership this month with a column in the New York Times titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” But Amy was far more than her final, heartbreaking column. Amy Shearn details what Amy did with her brief, inspired time, and how she came to inspire others.Read more…
In Rivka Galchen’s wonderful New Yorker profile of Willems, we learn that Knuffle Bunny’s real-life main character Trixie (Willems’s daughter) is now 15, that Willems couldn’t write another Pigeon book (“He’s a monster!”) and that he’s particularly focused on kids learning to embrace the “f” word:
Willems’s books reveal a preoccupation with failure, even an alliance with it. In “Elephants Cannot Dance!,” they can’t; in “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!,” Pigeon, despite all his pleading and cajoling, never does. Willems told me, “At ‘Sesame Street,’ they would give us these workshops about the importance of failure, but then in our skits all the characters had to be great at what they did, everything had to work out. That drove me crazy.” One of his most memorable sketches on “Sesame Street” was about a Muppet, Rosita, who wants to play the guitar; she isn’t very good, even by the end of the episode. Many artists talk about the importance of failure, but Willems seems particularly able to hold on to the conviction of it. He is a distinctly kind, mature, and thoughtful person to spend time with, and there was only one anecdote that he told me twice. It was about a feeling he had recently while walking his dog, a kind of warm humming feeling starting in his abdomen, which, he said, he had never had before. Was it happiness? I asked. He said no. He’d felt happiness before. This was something different. He said he thought that, for the first time ever, he was feeling success.
The feeling would appear to be transient. When I asked him if it felt strange to no longer be writing Elephant and Piggie books—I was still working on a way to break the news to my daughter, who had been using the Other Titles endpaper as a field of dreams—he said, “Well, at least now I have my obituary.” Shortly afterward, he said, unprompted, “I think ‘What are you working on next?’ is the worst question. It’s such a bad question. I hate that question. Everyone asks that question. I want to say, ‘Isn’t this good enough for you?’ ”