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Welcome to 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks, a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.
I responded on a personal level to today’s featured picture book, Cinnamon Baby (Kids Can Press, February 2011) by Nicola Winstanley and illustrated by Janice Nadeau. (Wow. Check out that website for lots more art.) From a professional standpoint—as a children’s librarian, who studied children’s lit in grad school and who is always trying to separate the good children’s books from the not-so-good ones—I love it, too. It resonated with me on both of those levels, that is.
It’s the story of a baker named Miriam, who owns her own little bakery. She makes bread and makes it well: “She made a spicy bread, studded with little peppercorns and basil, and a sweet bread with ginger. She made a light, white loaf with dill, and a crusty brown one with sunflower seeds and honey.” (Mmm. See? The story had me right at the beginning.) The cinnamon bread, her favorite, she always saves for last. While baking, Miriam sings the songs her mother taught her as a child. It’s her beautiful voice and the aromas from her delicious bread that attract Sebastian one day, riding around on his bike, who asks Miriam to marry him.
Time passes. A baby is born to Miriam and Sebastian. “The child had big brown eyes and dusky skin and smelled like sweet milk.” All is well. For a while. On the fourth day, the baby starts crying and simply won’t stop. No matter what Miriam does, the baby is a scream machine, though breaks for sleeping are occasionally taken. “The baby is not sick,” the doctor tells Miriam. “I think it is simply unhappy.” But everyone is confused as to why.
One day, her sleeping baby reminds Miriam of a “little, wrinkled raisin,” and she’s struck with a good idea: Heading to the bakery in the “still-dark morning,” Miriam gets right to work, stirring, pouring, measuring, baking. The baby’s cries subside. Miriam makes just about every kind of bread she knows to make, yet it’s when the baby smells the cinnamon bread that it stops crying altogether. Everyone lives happily ever after. The end.
Now. My oldest is named Miriam, though she decided to go by her middle name when she was three, and it’s a name I don’t hear often in the South. So, that right there was my first personal connection to the book. But also: She was the world’s. screamiest. baby. I could go on (and on) about this and its great challenges, and I won’t. This isn’t a parenting blog. It’s enough to say that she wasn’t ill, and she wasn’t even colicky. This kind of constant unhappiness (whose only remedy was for mama to hold her, which meant I constantly had a baby in my arms and slept with said baby, though I hadn’t planned to) is a level of confusion and mystery way beyond simple colick (which is itself not simple to begin with). It’s very difficult to describe this kind of almost-incessant screaming (though Dr. William Sears has a name for it and a whole book about it, and just him NAMING IT was so helpful that I decided years ago that if I ever meet that man I’m gonna hug his neck). So, boy howdy and howdy boy, did this tale resonate with me on those personal levels.
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they both tucked in to bed beside Miriam.”
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See the showers of tears and actual flooding? Yup, the illustrator nailed it. (And in a very funny way.)
Also—and I suppose it could be argued I’m reading too much into it—I feel like Miriam’s story (the picture-book Miriam, that is) is more than just about the smell of bread making a baby’s cries subside. Having a baby is a huge—though happy—shock. The boot camp that is early parenthood is a ginormous life-changer, no matter how prepared you convince yourself you are. The mother, in particular, has to give herself up on multiple levels to this new human. It’s an adjustment. In my experience, going from full-time library’ing (and doing half a billion other things) to full-time parenthood was challenging (and was actually one reason I started blogging — that is, to engage in conversations again about children’s lit, while at home with a human being incapable of abstract thought). To me, what I found moving about this picture book was the notion that Miriam returned to the pre-baby love of her life: Her work. Her baking. Something at which she excelled. Something for which she felt passion. Maybe that joy is what made screamy baby unscreamy. Publishers Weekly wrote, “Debut author Winstanley’s simply-told fable offers a gentle message about the importance of nurturing the soul.” Yeah. True. But I’m talking about mama’s soul here, too — not just baby’s. I dunno. Food-for-thought anyway.
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Anywhoozles. Lovely book. I like it. Winstanley’s writing is a feast for your senses. Janice Nadeau, a Canadian illustrator and three-time recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Illustration, rendered the tale in watercolor, graphite pencil, and paper collage — all assembled digitally. Her palette is primarily composed of warm earth tones, and there are endearing, funny details for observant readers. (For one, Miriam’s hair looks a bit like a cinnamon bun.) Her textured, fine-lined illustrations on cream-colored paper have a real delicacy and charm. And bonus: I just found this March New York Times feature on the book.
CINNAMON BABY. Text copyright © 2011 by Nicola Winstanley. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Janice Nadeau. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Kids Can Press, Tonawanda, NY.
1). I’m reading an ARC of this fabulous book, to be released in May from Feiwel & Friends. It’s so flippin’ good that it makes my day to read it. I hope it doesn’t go bad. So far, so good. The other day, reading it with my seven-year-old, I read “the sun hitched up her trousers and soldiered on up into the sky” and had to put the book down a moment and exclaim loudly and marvel, while my daughter waited patiently. Also, check out this excerpt below. By way of explanation, the protagonist, a girl named September, is trying to get to a land called Pandemonium but must first pass through the House Without Warning with a woman made of soap, Lye. Lye tells September she cannot get to Pandemonium “without having the road washed from you and your feet made soft and your spirit thoroughly scrubbed.” September takes three baths. Her courage, wishes, and luck are all washed. Here’s courage:
“When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the works going or else you’ll never be brave again. Unfortunately, there are not so many facilities in your world that provide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of spit and polish to make them paladins once more, bold knights and true.”
Ah. Grunged up with living. So true.
2). You know when you’re having a bad day or sad day or, whatever, just a murky, not-sunny day? I was reminded this week, by hitting “shuffle” on my iPod, that songs with hand claps can help those moods. I need to make a Songs With Hand Claps mix. I really do. This song below, “Heart to Tell” by The Love Language, is one. No, really. Consider listening to it, pretty please. It’s short, and it’s a perfect little pop song. That percussion’y-hand-clappy part there that you hear about thirty seconds in and then you hear one more time later? THAT JUST MAKES MY BRAIN HAPPY.
Also in this hand-clappy category is Delta Spirit’s “People C’mon,” which I can lip sync perfectly, thank you very much (except for one tiny part with mangled lyrics during which I just resort to the ‘ol “banana banana” trick). Also, it’s good for air-drummin’. (This lip-syncing of “People C’Mon” is something I’ve practiced a lot. Maybe even very subtly while walking in the park with my iPod, which maybe even made me look like a crazy person. But there’s not much that will stop me from looking like a crazy person.)
P.S. Should I email my suggestions to Paste Magazine?
P.S. Again: The Love Language’s CD is totally named “Libraries.” Score.
3). Okay. I want to word this carefully. I don’t want to sound boastful, and well…one can sound A Bit Much, I’m afraid, when going on and on about her blog. Know what I mean? At least I try not to take it all too seriously, as I’m just a tiny speck of dust in cyberspace. Anyway. More than one person told me this week that they appreciate how 7-Imp connects them with others. Illustrators with other illustrators. Authors with illustrators. Authors with authors. And, best of all, readers with books (or authors or illustrators). And, you see, this makes me so happy. I hope I don’t sound braggy? That is the highest compliment you can give 7-Imp, though, in my book. The very highest. I like connecting people. Why else blog?
4). All I can say about this Tiny Desk Concert with Otis Taylor is YES. Just YES. And also: Why can’t these musicians with banjos have concerts at my tiny desk?
5). When people stop by 7-Imp to visit and share so generously of their time and work and talents. I’ve done enough interviews and features to be able to tell those people who think that stopping by merely means they might sell one more book and and that’s THAT (meaning they answer questions rather perfunctorily and hurriedly) from those people who really and truly love to talk about the art of creating picture books and have a real reverence for the whole process and want to communicate and share their wonder with readers. Guess which I prefer, and not just ’cause blogging is a labor of love? (This post was one of the latter, no doubt, which is one of many reasons I like it so.)
6). Are you tired of me talking about Elbow? BUT THEY’RE BRILLIANT, I TELL YOU.
“Tables are for pounding here / …And we’ve love enough to light the street / Everybody’s here.” If there’s an afterlife, I hope it’s like what’s depicted in that song.
7). A chunk of really good, super fresh bread (a sourdough or Italian loaf is best) with a piece of really rich cheese (say, some good Colby) and a glass of water when you’re super big-time hungry. Throw in a few grapes. Simple foods are best. Picnic foods. Yeah, that. Picnic foods are best.
BONUS #1: We have a teeeny-tiny extension on our final manuscript deadline for our book, meaning it will now hit shelves in Spring 2013 and not Fall 2012. Which is fine. A bit more time is good, too, though I’ll be happy when the final manuscript is turned in. You’ll hear me whoopin’ and hollerin’ this summer when we do that. I bet Cris in Italy will be able to hear me. It’ll be that loud of a whoop. ‘Cause, you see, during that (probably short) span of time between turning it in and getting edited and starting to revise, etc., I’ll have time to read a bunch of novels. I’m gonna lock myself up in the house and do so, I think.
BONUS #2: Acts of kindness go a long way.
BONUS #3: Speaking of separating the good children’s books from the not-so-good ones (as I did at the beginning of this post), here’s a wonderful way to start from author/scholar/professor/blogger Philip Nel.
THE KICK YOU CAN ASSUME EXISTS EVERY WEEK: My children are healthy and happy.
What are YOUR kicks this week?