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Friday, June 8, 2012

Pass It Down, written by Leonard C. Marcus. Walker & Company, Thomas Allen & Son, 2007. $25.00 ages 8 and up

"Christopher remembers: I wouldn't eat Brussels sprouts for years because of a story he told me. I asked him: "What are they? They're so odd looking." He responded with a long, involved story about a war we had fought in the sixties with a race of very small aliens. Brussels sprouts were the aliens' leftover heads."

And he never ate them again!

In this entertaining and informative book the author introduces his audience to five families whose joy in life is to create the art that enhances the pages of many favorite picture books. In reading it, I came to know much more about those illustrators whose work I have admired through the years, and to feel my own joy at being in their company.

He begins with Donald Crews, Ann Jonas and their daughter Nina. Books by the parents were among my favorites as I began exploring the field of children's literature for my children and for my kids at school. They retain a permanent place on my bookshelves, despite much culling over the years and were often used as mentor texts for teaching and learning about reading and writing. I was excited to see Nina's first book One Hot Summer Day, 1995 having admired her parents' work over the years. Now, I  have added her beautifully photographed and designed books to my collection. Mr. Marcus includes family photos, illustrations from published works, and many personal observances of the journey taken by a child whose lifework mirrors that of her parents.

Following getting to know the Crews-Jonas clan, we meet the Hurds, the Myers, the Pinkneys  and the Rockwells. The children in these 'dynasties' did not start out thinking that picture book illustration was their vocation. Art was in their blood, that's true; but they studied various aspects of it before turning their attention to the family calling. I expect that their work brings them great joy.

My brother and his wife, my husband and I all chose teaching. It was no surprise then that Erin  decided to get an education degree, and she loved teaching. A move west has not resulted in a job for her, but I know she was very much influenced by the happiness that a teaching career had for us. So, it is not unusual that the children of successful artists would find that same joy in working in the family's chosen field. We get a real sense of that in  these stories. In each case, the children were given free rein to establish their own careers; the influence of their parents' chosen work is evident.    
Leonard Marcus provides a thoughtful introduction:

"After World War II, millions of American soldiers returned home from the battlefield, married, and started families. Tired of war and eager to offer their children safer, happier lives, many of these new parents moved to the suburbs. They gave their children bicycles and other toys and made sure their youngsters got a good education. These same parents - and those who came after them in the 1950s and 1960s - also bought record numbers of books for their children. Because they did so, more artists and writers than ever were needed to create children's books."

Blessed are we to still be enjoying the fruits of their labors!

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