When last we saw Garmann, he was around five, worrying about the first day of school and dead birds and dying aunts and Hannah and Johanna, the twins next door, who could hold their heads under water and read backwards and generally make you feel incompetent by comparison. That book was one of the inspirations for this store, so odd and full and deeply felt, with real, unprettied faces amid the fruits and trees and flying things of Garmann’s feverish imagination, that I guessed it should forever remain an orphan to the marketing strategies of the day – too odd, too full, too feverish – unless, unless, unless I did something about it.
Something heroic, I hoped, delivering not just Garmann, but Ikarus Jackson and Howard Cranebill and Oliver Button and Scaredy Squirrel and B.B. Wolf and Dougal the Garbage Dump Bear and all of the other deserving misfits to a clean well-lighted place. Three years later, I still take the cape out of the drawer occasionally, and swoop around my living room, and try not to bother the neighbors. Sometimes I wonder. The dog looks at me funny. I guess I wish I’d made more arch enemies by now. But then the dial on my special book detector will start twitching and suddenly humming, and someone like Garmann will come sneaking back into view, now several years older, dreamier and more confounding than ever, almost certainly harder to place, but riveting, maybe even essential to the future of picture books, if picture books are to have any future at all.
Because we’re just going to stop reading these things if they continue to bore, and by “we” I mean the people with sixteen, seventeen dollars to spare on a single afternoon’s diversion, since any more and we’d start to hear baby voices in our heads. If the cover of Garmann’s Secret should lead you to momentarily wonder over its appropriateness for first and second grade readers, then it may also provide the grown-up remaining in you a private little thrill – is this really what it looks like? But first to it’s appropriateness: here is a ditty I hear sung around the schoolyard by five year old girls with backpacks bearing the likeness of it’s composer:
“Us girls are so magical, soft skin,
red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist, so touchable, too
good to deny it…”
Followed by something about a melting popsicle I can never fully make out, still unless you are living in a sackcloth somewhere off the electrical grid, chances are sweet Garmann will not rock your world.
How old is he now anyway? My own son says ten, but he has just turned ten himself, and is either completely in awe of Garmann’s secret, or looking forward to a totally great year of his own. There’s a swift little smooch here in the end, and a flutter which everywhere animates these pages, some teeming with sparrows and ladybugs and butterflies – magnificent butterflies! – some rustling with the wind through the treetops where Garmann and Johanna discover what looks like a busted-up space capsule returned from the heavens - “on our island, of all islands,” wonders Garmann, as Joanna cautiously raps its scorched metal shell with her knuckles, “Garmann’s skin tingling all the way from the top of his little finger down to the graze on his knee.”
They touch hands, “a warm glow passing through his body again,” trace words with a finger across one another’s backs, go swimming in the pond (Garmann… naked? Oh, Norwegian libertines!), fix up the capsule together, and wonder in astronaut voices if God is on vacation.
Johanna, remember, was one of those noxious identical twins from several summers ago, but was she really, was she ever? You’d have to look closely, which just happens to be Garmann’s superpower, though he’d probably be reluctant to admit it: Even amid the schoolyard riot of shouting faces and whizzing skateboards and soccer balls and tottering seesaws, Garmann is straightaway visible for his incandescent watchfulness. He’s the busiest kid on the page. Collecting, and dreaming of other worlds, though never so much as imagining that anyone would want to fly there with him, until one day, suddenly, they do.