Even if you have precious little interest in children’s books, you may still recognize the work of Peter H. Reynolds from brushing past it on the way to something else. His Ish and The Dot feature plenty of white space to go with their taciturn titles: modest perhaps in appearance (particularly compared with the cupcakes and costume jewelry which now tend to surround them), but churning, even a little fierce between the covers.
Which is why I’ve decided to revisit them in this space, where my focus is preferably the lost or lesser-known, still I worry this artist is right on the edge of a mainstream that will lead us to forgetting what was ever so great about him in the first place.
“Make your mark,” was the animating spirit of The Dot from 2003, and sure enough, Reynolds has been leaving an unmistakable trail ever since, both in wordier, busier books – The North Star was ironically all over the place, So Few of Me a familiar, possibly autobiographical lament on over-scheduling – and the multiple off-ramps of something called FableVison, which is alternately described in the press material as a “social change agency” and creator of educational media and technology. That’s great for him, and probably good, on balance, for us, yet aren’t we all sometimes a little grateful that Salinger disappeared when he did into the silence of rural New Hampshire?
If a certain cranky defiance is the casualty of all this engagement, so too is the joyful realization that it’s not about what everyone thinks. At least in regards to art, and here you get the feeling that Reynolds speaks with the authority gained from many flops and consolations.
In The Dot a girl sits in an empty art room after class, fuming at the lack of technique which is apparently preventing her from expressing some essential, maybe urgent part of herself – because why else would she still be sitting there? She could just draw flowers and aliens like everyone else, and go home, but stabs in frustration with a marker instead, and receives the fateful little jolt of validation from a teacher that many of us probably need if we are ever to take our singular visions and run with them.
Which she does, refining, and improving, and exploring with different colors and bigger canvasses till she’s got enough for an art show even, which everyone loves, which I personally kind of didn’t. I mean, does she really need a curtain call?
Maybe this is nitpicking, and maybe I will read this to my children’s children, but not before Ish, about a boy with who simply loves to draw – at bedtime, in back alleys, sitting on the toilet even. He doesn’t know why. This may not suggest the narrative promise of The Dot, or obvious resolution, and yet it travels to that rare state of grace which sketchbooks are not usually equipped to contain. There’s the regular philistine critic along the way, a squeak of encouragement, still it’s no good blaming anyone else. In the end it is always our own expectations which crush us, or carry us away.