My favorite moment of the day is reading a story to my little boy at bedtime. As most writers, I am first a reader and so I love stories especially children’s books which when done well are sublime in their innocence and clever in their nuance. And as most mothers, I cherish those quiet moments inhaling the sweet smell of my freshly bathed boy and listening to his small voice ask big questions.
“Mommy, how do you read?” I respond with a brief explanation of letter sounds. He says, “I don’t know how.” I remind him that he is only four and reassure him that he will learn. He smiles and joyfully says, “I look at the pictures.” I smile and say, “So do I.”
It is what we all look at before we can read the words and even once we can, making those pictures pencil-lined and awash in bright colors so important.
Watching my child’s enjoyment as he pores over vivid renderings of racecars and realistic depictions of bumpy and horned monsters, I am reminded of my own beloved childhood books and favorite among them is A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh.
I adored the small-brained but loveable bear, the gloomy donkey, the exuberant tiger, the self-assured rabbit and the others because regardless of any failings they succeeded in loving. Milne created characters that showed that friends make tasks easier and having fun more fun.
Children love these stories about a little bear filled with fluff and his friends because these animals are filled with more than stuffing. They are also filled with curiosity, imagination, and a fascination for the world around them. They are simple; they are pure love; they are children.
And although these characters were beautifully drawn with descriptive words and endearing stories, they were also beautifully drawn.
The original illustrator of Milne’s stories, E. H. Shepard, captured the childlike qualities of these characters with his simply drawn images.
There is no color. Instead, the animals are softly sketched in line drawings. Although seemingly plain in its presentation, the pencil drawn pages are reminiscent of a child’s drawing. So that Pooh becomes more than a bear outlined in subtle strokes of pencil, he becomes a child’s creation.
The lack of color doesn’t dim the images instead eliminating the distraction of bright hues highlights and brings attention to the detail of carefully crosshatched and staccato strokes. The uncomplicated lines and gently and deeply shaded outlines reveal the animals’ simplicity and innocence while hinting at the depth of their emotion.
Since the first image of Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1924, he has undergone several alterations in his appearance over the years. In 1930, Stephen Slesinger purchased the trade rights from Milne and soon the Hundred Acre Wood was washed in the soft and diffused colors picked from a pastel palette. Then in 1961, the rights were licensed to Disney who painted the friends’ world in vibrant colors.
Each iteration only ferments the image of Pooh in readers’ minds and that image is one of kindness, love and friendship in the shape of a round-bellied bear brought to life with beautiful illustrations.
As a writer of fiction, I must depend upon only words to capture my own mental images and meaning. So I not only admire but also I am grateful to these artists who through their drawings give stories added texture and dimension.
And so I say RIP Maurice Sendak—a man who was able to not only write the words but to also bring them beautifully to life with drawings and images reminding us all that truly “pictures are worth a thousand words.”
Causes Sherry Parnell Supports
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International