Happy weekend all!
Today, I want to introduce a new, ongoing series here on Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves. Every once in a while I hunt down an author of old who I love and give them props, but I've been thinking lately that I'd like to highlight come contemporary children's book authors, as well. Particularly those who I know have a penchant for the vintage and well-loved. So today, meet Lane Smith, children's author and illustrator extraordinaire, whose latest book is Grandpa Green...
VKBMKL: I am a big fan of your site Curious Pages, where you’ve catalogued some of the favorite vintage (and not so vintage) titles in your personal collection.
LANE: Thanks. Curious Pages is a site I compiled with my pal Bob Shea (author of Big Plans and Dinosaur vs. Bedtime). We intended the list of books to be an antidote to your average rainbow and teddy bear titles. However, once we were happy with the grouping and had posted our last book, readers continued writing in, “Why aren’t you guys posting new stuff on the site?” I’ve always loved Vintage Kids’Books My Kid Loves, so I heartily recommend to anyone who likes our site but craves more content to check you out over here. This site has such great things on it.
VKBMKL: Thanks! Are the books featured on Curious Pages ones you remember from childhood or things you’ve collected and appreciated as an adult?
LANE: 90 percent of the books listed on Curious Pages were things I discovered as an adult. I didn’t have too many books as a kid. I have thousands of books in my collection now. They spill over from my house and into my office and into my wife’s design studio.
VKBMKL: Are you drawn as an adult to the same sort of books you were when you were young?
LANE: Yes. I think I am. I’ve always loved classic vintage things. When I was a kid, I had a collection of Big Little Books and obscure comic books that no one my age cared about. In junior high school, I collected old time radio shows on cassette tapes. All the other kids were into M*A*S*H or Charlie’s Angels, and here I was listening to The Shadow and Jack Benny. In high school when my peers were listening to Led Zeppelin, I was listening to Tex Ritter and Fats Waller and watching Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. I don’t know why.
The books I enjoy as an adult have an off-kilter humor: Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, George Saunders, Charles Portis. Obviously, these are not kids' books, but I am attracted to a similar tone in children’s lit: Sendak, Krauss, Charlip, Steig...
VKBMKL: Are there any books now you turn to for inspiration? I love how even as adults we hold onto things we remember from childhood. Is there an image from a children’s book that haunted you as a child? Do you have an all-time favorite children’s book?
LANE: My office shelves hold books that inspire me. I have my Charles Schulz shelf, my Provensens shelf, my Seuss shelf, my Maurice Sendak shelf, etc... not too many new books in my office.
This image from The Gateway to Storyland, haunted me as a child:
The separation of a child from his parents is a potent theme in many children’s books. My favorite book of all time? Probably, The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson.
VKBMKL: My favorite sort of children’s books are ones that shock the reader with a feeling or an image. Whether by creating an emotional pull that moves you or seeing something out of the reader’s comfort zone. I read that your book, It’s a Book, terrified some parents and librarians and has actually been relegated to the teen section for its use of the word jackass to call a male donkey what it is, a jackass. It was the first book my son ever read totally on his own, and he personally loves the jackass part. Why do you think after so many years of protesting children’s books and banning things that scare us, people still haven’t learned that children aren’t made of bone china?
LANE: Thanks Burgin for your comments on It’s a Book. To this day I get hate mail on my Website about the jackass line. Of course, I receive much more mail from folks who love it. Truth is, I really don’t like controversy. I was a quiet kid and am a quiet grown-up. But I also don’t like middle of the road books that read as if a focus group put them together. I don’t care for anything if I feel the artist isn’t trying. So I guess I’m always going to get reactions, good and bad, from my books.
Addressing the broader picture, yes, I feel that kids can handle much more than grown-ups give them credit for. I agree that books should excite, inspire, stimulate and sometimes give a little shock. I found this quote by Maurice Sendak on Wikiquotes. I think it’s from his Caldecott speech: “Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious — and what is too often overlooked — is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”
(Tune in tomorrow for Part Two.)
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