Sometimes you just got to go for it! And that’s what I did when I summoned my courage to email a literary hero of mine, Lynne Rae Perkins to invite her to be a guest on Friend Friday. Her novel, Criss Cross, changed my thinking about what novels can be AND contains one of my favorite lines from kid lit (check out our chat on Instagram to learn which line that is). And I’ve had great fun following her on Facebook, especially her venture into creating flash cards to help her learn Spanish. As someone who’s recently dived into torn paper collage, I am inspired by Lynne’s passion for “making,” and a bit in awe that her making leads to books as evocative as The Museum of Everything, (Greenwillow Books/ HarperCollins).
When people ask me about my most recent book, I say that it’s a picture book called The Museum of Everything (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books), and that the illustrations are dioramas. It’s handy to have a quick little sentence to respond with, and I think that the two parts of that sentence can click together to conjure ideas and images in someone’s mind of what such a book would look like, and that’s interesting to me.
Maybe those are the “hooks.”
But I think what holds the book together is that it’s a poem.
Most days, I read a poem or three with my morning coffee. A poem can show you an unexpected idea or way of seeing, it can be all at once roundabout and concise. I like how that feels in my mind.
So I think this book is a poem, but where did it come from? For me, most books don’t start with one idea, but a friendly collision of ideas. That’s what makes them spark and come to life.
Here are some of the ideas that collided to spark The Museum of Everything:
I love to walk. I walk for an hour or two every day, most often with our dog. We walk through our town, to the grocery store, or on trails through the woods. I don’t listen to podcasts or music, I just look around and let my mind wander. There is always something to fall in love with: something familiar, something I had forgotten about, something I haven’t noticed before. The world is so dang full of a number of things, as someone once said. Spirea bushes in springtime. Blossoms falling all at once from their tree overnight, making a pink “shadow” on the grass. An old leaf soaking up the warmth of the sun and melting a perfect leaf-shaped hole in the snow.
People sometimes ask, “What do you like better, writing or drawing?” But there is a third – I like making things. Physical things. Once, while visiting a museum of history, a friend and I stopped to look at a bracelet that was thousands of years old and he said, “People have wanted to make something beautiful right from the beginning.” And I think people feel the desire to make something beautiful right from childhood.
A few years ago, I was invited to be artist-in-residence on Cuttyhunk Island, a teeny-tiny island off of Massachusetts. You can stand on a platform in the center of the island and see all the way around. When I came home, I tried to draw what that felt like. I decided I wanted to embroider an island, because Cuttyhunk did not have many trees of any size. Lots of grasses, in November colors. I made a diorama for it to live in, and some other islands to keep it company. And then I painted a child standing in front of it, looking in.
Which got me thinking about museums. What if there was a Museum of Islands that was on its own island, and you had to go there on a boat? What if there was a Museum of Bushes, but it was really just your neighbor’s yard?
Once, while visiting an art museum, it struck me that I would like being there even if there weren’t any exhibits. It was a beautiful space, as museums so often are. It felt like a refuge from pettiness. A place to think about big, beautiful, maybe impractical ideas.
I painted another picture of my diorama-gazing child, this time in a chair with open empty hands. I glued a real seashell into her hands. And I found the first sentence of my book: “When the world gets too big and too loud and too busy, I like to look at little pieces of it, one at a time.”
I think the art I made for this book is, in a way, a concrete poem. It was so much fun to make, but what gives it meaning is that it’s about ideas trying to find form. I hope that this book, that all my books, encourages readers to spend time with their own ideas.
Especially when the world gets too big and too loud and too busy.
Lynne Rae Perkins has written and illustrated 5 novels and 9 picture books for young people. Two of her picture books, Home Lovely and Snow Music, were Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Books. She has also illustrated books by other authors, includIng Seed by Seed, by Esme Raji Codell, and Little Bird, by Cynthia Voigt. 2006, she received the Newbery Medal for Criss Cross. On December 24, 2011, she was a clue in the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, which gave her real credibility with her mother.Lynne Rae and her husband Bill, who makes rustic furniture, live in northern Michigan. They have two grown children, Lucy and Frank, who live too far away, and a dog named Hazel.