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Changed by a children's book

Every time I open a children's book it changes my life. The words or the art inspire me to stretch my imagination, abilities, even charity. What a wonderful opportunity every parent, grandparent, or childcare provider has: to share a book with a ...

Every time I open a children's book it changes my life. The words or the art inspire me to stretch my imagination, abilities, even charity. What a wonderful opportunity every parent, grandparent, or childcare provider has: to share a book with a child and be transformed.

Let me give you an example. I recently read the book "Red Knit Cap Girl" by Naoko Stoop. I was drawn to the book because of its spare yet unusual artwork. The title makes me think of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Fairy tales, after all, are the quintessential stories.

The book is not a remake of the tale, however. It is an original, offering images I have not seen and ideas I do not possess. The artist uses plywood as her canvas and acrylic, ink and pencil as her media. In this particular book, she also uses cut-outs of printed words as paper lanterns.

The grooves of the plywood flow through the illustrations like a watermark, creating depth and movement behind the gentle scenes of a forest wrapped in moonlight. The Red Knit Cap Girl, accompanied by a rabbit and befriended by a handful of forest friends along the way, endeavors to get close enough to the moon to talk to her. The reader's quest is to join them on the journey. (Now something about that reminds me of The Wizard of Oz.)

The back sleeve of the book explains the story's inspiration. The author, who was born in Japan, lives in New York City where "it can be hard to see the beautiful night sky shining above the city lights." After participating in Earth Hour, she was motivated to write the book.

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What is Earth Hour? It's an event that encourages people to turn off the lights for an hour. "Turning off the lights allowed me to sit quietly and appreciate the beautiful natural world and sky around me, beyond the light and noise of the city," said Stoop. "No matter where we live we can enjoy the beauty of the moon and stars shining above in the quiet darkness of the night, just like the Red Knit Cap Girl and her friends."

Anita Silvey, former book publisher and editor of The Horn Book Magazine, believes that "when we give children books, we become part of their future, part of their most cherished memories, and part of their entire life.

"Children's books change lives," she agreed.

Her editorial work, "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book, Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life," is a fascinating look at more than 100 leaders from the arts, sciences, politics, business and other fields recalling the children's books they loved and their impact on their lives.

When we are moved by a work of art (and a children's book is like a work of art to childlike eyes) we can be asked to change our lives. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke felt an identical response upon viewing a broken sculpture of the god Apollo, and wrote a poem about the experience, "Archaic Torso of Apollo."

Is Stoop's picture book comparable to what's left of an ancient Greek statue? I can't say for sure, but I did look up Earth Hour and I plan to turn off my lights for an hour to enjoy the night sky.

Lisbeth Boutang is the children's librarian at the Cloquet Public Library. She can be contacted at 218-879-1531.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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