Some “living letters” give us the most lovely part of themselves – even when we don’t know them personally…
To Ms. Anglund:
I have a little treasure on my bookshelf. It’s only about 4 ¼ x 6 ¾ inches in size. And oh, it has been much loved… like the Velveteen Rabbit — with the well-worn touch of a child who turned its pages over and over again. Studying your art. Memorizing your words. Discovering…Love IS a Special Way of Feeling…
It looks to be a first edition…and, though its paper cover is missing, your sweet pen and ink drawing of a little boy and girl on the hard dusty rose cover still makes me smile. And there next to the title page, a lovely 7th birthday wish inscribed to me – a tender note from my mom’s close friend whom we’ve always called Auntie:
Holding that little book now, I run my fingers once more over that inscription… Then, turning the pages, I wince – for there is that childish drawing indelibly scrawled in ink…just above the words on page two… The mark my toddler cousin scribbled there before mom could rescue it from her tiny hands. What sorrow I felt — she had ruined my special birthday book! But as I look at it now, I’m wondering… maybe she too felt that artistic longing that you always inspired in me – oh, to draw like you did!
I am seven, ten, and twelve again… and Joan Walsh Anglund is teaching me to draw! Not only me…but my best friend. We meet nearly every afternoon to painstakingly copy your artwork from this and so many of your books. To discover with joy that a friend is not only someone who likes you, but someone who enjoys doing the same things you do – together. To learn your sweetly detailed technique. How I love those details!
Your delicate pen and ink marks that add character to the pinafore and overalls of each child… Your cross-hatch diamond designs on the quaint wallpaper… The sweet dots that bring warmth to the hooked rugs on the floor and the lovely Early American style furniture. I think of how you are the first to put a love for all things Colonial and New England in my heart…
I love your drawing of the little colt and try so hard to capture the shape of its body on my own paper… frustrated, because for the longest time mine looks more like a dog.
I love the simple line swirls that form the clouds in your drawings and lift my heart to the skies… making me feel the wind blowing through the little girl’s scarf as she stands looking out to the harbor… And wondering what it is she is dreaming as she watches boats sail away.
I love the graceful curve of your pine trees… and think of how long I worked to capture that loveliness in my own sketches…
I cherish the charming slices of life you caught and illustrated…facet by sweet facet…. The little sister bringing a tray to ease her poor little brother’s toothache. The two little girls, sharing secrets in the great and comfy four poster bed. The mom and child cuddling by the fire before bedtime. The child who notices a sad lone boy outside her group of friends…and understands how he feels.
And as I copy your work…I find myself knowing these children like characters in a story, and getting a glimpse of you as an artist and a poet – someone who is sharing her artist eye with me, a stranger. Yet, somehow, it feels like we are friends. After a time, I begin to draw my own style. My sketches evolve to children with noses and smiles…but it is you who have taught me to draw warmth…and character…and movement. It is you who have given me eyes to recognize all those tender curves in a child’s face…who makes me delight each time I see that JWA look in a real life child’s eyes…
But even more…You are part of the many who strengthen heart and compassion and encouraging words in me… In the philosophy of caring and faith in your poetic words… in the tenderness you illustrate so lovingly.
And I think… Thank you Joan, for showing me your heart. For filling mine with your special way of feeling. With inspiration to write and draw…and to encourage others with my own. For using your gifts and talents to shine a living letter of His light… and making me want to as well.
Author and illustrator Joan Walsh Anglund is perhaps best known for her inspirational poems and stories of love, faith and friendship and for her illustrations of round-faced children without noses or mouths. Inspired mostly by her own children, Joy and Todd, Ms. Anglund had her first publishing success with the book, A Friend is Someone Who Likes You in 1958. She has stated in interviews that while she did not consciously decide to create faces with eyes only, “I think I am trying to get down to the essence of a child–not drawing just a particular, realistic child, but instead I think I’m trying to capture the ‘feeling’ of all children–of Childhood itself, perhaps.”
During her lifetime she has written and illustrated over 75 children’s books, selling over 40 million copies world wide, making her one of the most successful writers in the world…but even more, she has touched the hearts of children across generations. “Praise, like sunlight,” she writes, “helps all things grow.”