In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Maine Summers with family

Dear Annie,

Blueberries for Sal was published in 1948: Sal would have been three then.  The following year, Jane was born, and by 1952, when One Morning in Maine came out, Jane would have been pushing three, and Sal was a mature 7, although both were younger when their dad drew them for his book.

This picture, and the entire book, somehow make me think of Eleanor and Isabel.  Articulate, strong-willed big sister.  Curious animal-obsessed little sister (keep that dog in mind).

Sal wakes up with her first loose tooth, worried that it will keep her from a promised excursion to the mainland.  Her mother reassures her, telling her that when it comes out she can make a wish on it. In a series of amazing pictures of the coast of Maine, Sal finds her father and digs clams with him.  Somewhere in there -- we never know quite when -- her tooth disappears from her mouth.  "Sal's father helped her look, but a muddy tooth looks so much like a muddy pebble, and a muddy pebble looks so much like a muddy tooth, that they hunted and hunted without finding it." 

Sal and Jane both head out with Father in the boat --  but engine trouble ensues.  A long-suffering dad rows across the bay, to Condon's garage, where spark plug trouble is diagnosed.  The old one is pulled like a tooth, and handed to toddler Jane, who clutches it for the rest of the story.  Locals are chatted with, groceries are picked up, ice cream is consumed, and the satisfied family heads back home, in time for Sal's famous final line. "When we get home we're going to have [page turn] CLAM CHOWDER FOR LUNCH!"

The book cares so deeply about the minutiae of family tasks.  The emotion isn't as high as in Blueberries,  but there's a steady feeling of family members contentedly going through life together.

In my imagination, the next book was at least partly spurred by the now-8 year-old Jane pointing out that dad has done two books focusing on Sal, and where's the book for Jane? 
Time of Wonder
luxuriates in the magic of spending half a year living on the ocean.  It's written in the second person, with more abstract illustrations: luminous paintings with both girls in them, but the descriptions are of what the younger one is doing.  We go through the steps of a foggy spring morning slowly clearing, ferns growing, sun shining, summer packs of kids at the beach, magical lightning bug nights.  We are in wonder at it all.

But the part that made the biggest impression on me was always the hurricane after the summer people have gone.  "We're going to have some weather," the locals say, and it's anticipated for several pages.  The family is together in their house:
A tree snaps.  Above the roar of the hurricane you see and feel but do not hear it fall.  A latch gives way.  People and papers and parcheesi games are puffed hair-over-eyes across the floor, while Father pushes and strains to close and bolt out the storm.

One can see why McCloskey won the Caldecott for best illustration with this book.  Next page:
Mother reads a story, and the words are spoken and lost in the scream of the wind.  You are glad it is a story you have often heard before.  Then you all sing together, shouting "eyes have seen the glory" just as loud as you can SHOUT.  With dishtowels tucked by doorsills just to keep the salt spray out.

(Dog look familiar?)

The storm passes, damage is inspected the next day, and soon it's time to move back to wherever their winter home is.
Take a farewell look at the waves and sky.  Take a farewell sniff of the salty sea. A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going.  It is a time of quiet wonder -- for wondering, for instance: Where do hummingbirds go in a hurricane?
The end.

I'm so glad your family will be coming to visit us in Maine this summer.



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