Understanding the Power of Picture Books: Cookies with Miss Rumphuis
Michelle Edwards | The Children’s Book Review | February 21, 2014
It happened quite unexpectedly one winter day many years ago while sitting on an old corduroy couch with my daughters, Meera and Flory. A pile of picture books tottered on the floor nearby. We would, in the course of our time sitting there, work our way through all of them.
A mere twenty-one months apart, my reading buddies were pre-schoolers. Inquisitive and full of energetic wonder, they kept me very busy. Exhausted.
The winters were long in Minnesota where we lived back then. Some days simply were too cold to take such small ones out. Not to mention, the effort needed to dress them in their snow suits and boots and hats and mittens and what-nots. On the bitterest of those Siberian days when we stayed in, we did our exploring in books.
Even though I was a published author/illustrator at the beginning of my career, those reading times on the corduroy couch weren’t about research for me. I could say, they were our bonding times, because they were. More honestly, they were our restful times.
On this particular day, we had settled in with Miss Rumphius, magnificently written and illustrated by the late Barbara Cooney. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, and please promise me you’ll read it very soon, I’ll tell you only that it’s the life story of Miss Alice Rumphuis, also known as the Lupine Lady.
“My cookie,” demanded Flory when we reached penultimate double-page spread.
At first, I didn’t know what she meant. But her older sister did.
“My cookie,” said Meera as she reached her hand out to touch the plate of cookies in the illustration. The plate that Miss Rumphuis had placed on the rug in her cozy sitting room, complete with an attentive parrot on a perch, a roaring fire, and a clear view of the wide blue ocean outside.
That’s when I understood the power of a picture book.
With words and images, the best of picture books draw you into to the story. They lead you into new rooms. Once there, you join the community of children gathering around Miss Rumphuis. And while you listen to her “stories of faraway places,” you help yourself to a cookie.
Picture books are tricky to write. They must be spare, like poems. They must team up with images to tell your story. What works in one book, may not work in another. Still, we writers and illustrators labor on, always aiming to hit the highest mark.
As I launch my newest book, Max Makes a Cake, I find myself thinking about that afternoon with my daughters and Miss Rumphuis. I hope Max Makes a Cake is a story that is fun for children. I hope they enjoy the playful language. I hope they take delight in Charles Santoso’s wonderful illustrations. And most of all, I hope that somewhere, a child listening to the story, perhaps on a parent’s lap, will enter Max’s world, follow his frustrations and triumph, and then, without a thinking pause, reach into the story to taste a piece of his creation.
“Warmly tinted, wood-textured illustrations fit this gentle, informative book.” —Booklist
“Very cute!” —The Hiding Spot
Max Osher was an expert at getting dressed. He could almost tie his shoes. And he knew the Four Questions for Passover in Hebrew and English. The other night, he sang them in both languages at the Passover Seder. All by himself. Without any help. The youngest child is supposed to ask them, but Max’s sister, Trudy, was a baby. She couldn’t even talk yet.
Enter to win a copy. (Giveaway ends March 20, 2014.)
About the Author
Michelle Edwards is the author and illustrator of many books for children, one book for adults, and nearly one hundred essays and cards for knitters. Her picture book titles include Chicken Man, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. Michelle lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with her husband, a house full of books, yarn, and the artifacts of their three daughter’s childhoods. Her next picture book, A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, will be published in 2016 by Schwartz and Wade and illustrated by Brian Karas.
For the next stop on Michelle Edwards blog tour, visit: McBookWords, March 9, 2014, interview and guest post.