A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Two for One
This month, I’m dividing my usual 700 words into two mini columns. Enjoy!
The air was pungent with the bouquet of pine. Streams of early morning sunlight echoed through looming stands of trees. A blue jay, swooping over rippled waters, squawked loudly, his cries permeating the stillness. Squirrels, out searching for a breakfast morsel or two, were dancing over fallen logs with quick abandon. A solitary deer—oblivious to my presence—rambled through an adjacent meadow, nibbling on tufts of grass. The river, rippled with small eddies and the trace of water bugs, meandered past my post, reflecting a panoply of solar iridescence.
It was early June and my wife and I were camping along the Clarion River as it flowed through virgin stands of Cook Forest in Northwestern PA. I had set up a small table and camp chair on the river bank this morning to continue work on a pressing project. But, I was distracted by the sights and sounds all around. And . . . that’s when “Ralph” showed up.
“Ralph” was a hyperactive chipmunk, who quickly claimed the horizontal expanse of a fallen log as his immediate territory. He would scurry ten feet, stick his nose in the air, cautiously observe me, and then scamper down his arboreal highway for another ten to twenty feet. Occasionally, he would look around, chatter riotously, or scratch his face. He was on a mission—although it was never clear to me what that was. But he was definitely animated.
I scarcely glanced at my notebook; my eyes and ears were fixated on the sights and sounds of this transformative environment. My senses were awakened, my vision sharpened, my hearing clearly tuned to each screech, murmur, or rustle. “Ralph” continued his antics up and down the log, and I took careful note of each movement, each pause. He was my teacher this morning, making sure I was attuned to singular elements of this forested wonderland. I noted the nascent harmony of this environment and became keenly focused on small elements—tiny bits of information that sharpened my awareness and focused my attention. Little writing was accomplished that morning, but clear musings—applied later—were learned.
- Get out in nature—you’ll sharpen your authorial focus.
- Pay attention to details—you’ll scribe a larger picture.
We lost a giant!
It was early in my teaching career, and I was standing in front of a chattering group of kindergarten students with a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in my hands. I was talking about the cover illustration—its dynamic colors, the simplicity of its design, and the incredible image it created. My students were mesmerized by both its richness as well as its wonder. It spoke to them with a visual voice five-year-olds could both see and understand. Here was an illustrator who knew his audience and knew how to capture their attention.
Eric Carle books became a staple of our classroom. Students would rush into the room each morning to grab one of his many titles and curl up in the pillowed “Reading Center” to spend time with an old friend and his rainbow of characters. On our way to the library each week, we would gleefully chant Bill Martin Jr.’s words, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? I see a [student’s name] looking at me.” Eric Carle’s books and illustrations transformed literacy education as never before. His artistic talents drew kids into books with both a passion for color and a commitment to details. He created new worlds of pigment and expression.
The genius of Eric Carle as an illustrator was his simplicity of execution. His artwork was the design of collage—hand-painted papers cut and layered to create bright and cheerful images. His artistic genius enriched stories and added magic to words and sentences that kids could embrace and sing. He transformed the concept of picture books . . . opening up new vistas for discovery and exploration. I am certain that many readers of this column (along with their children) grew up with Eric Carle as both their literary friend and creative guide. Indeed, his books—books I used to teach reading a half century ago, books I’ve read to both my children and grandchildren, and books I frequently consult in my own authorial pursuits—still remain on my bookshelves.
Like the artist who created them, they are icons!
- Bring color into a child’s life—create a book.
- Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest.
A retired educator, prolific author, and passionate environmentalist, Tony (www.anthonydfredericks.com) is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He is also the author of 10,000 Writing Ideas: Essential Strategies for Every Writer (https://amzn.to/2SuiaPL) [“From one of the most creative and innovative authors of our time, this is a resource that you will find informative and inspirational.” —5-star review.]
|EDITOR’S NOTE: Tony also authors a monthly newsletter about creativity: Creatively Speaking: Ideas to Ignite Your Creative Fires (https://www.smore.com/u1rha-creatively-speaking). If you’re interested in fresh ideas and some innovative thinking skills, check it out!|
Thanks for this kind tribute and the reminder to enjoy the design of creation all around us