Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A manual for making glorious messes

Growing up to be an artist

by Lois Ehlert

1997, Harcourt Children's Books

If you spend your evenings reading with a toddler, chances are you've come across at least one Lois Ehlert book already.

Her signature is bright, color-punched collage, sometimes punctuated with flaps or cutouts. Many of Ehlert's titles have impressed my 2-year-old -- "Snowballs," especially, and "Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf" -- but none more so than "Hands," which we borrowed from the library a few weeks ago.

In short, clear sentences, Ehlert evokes the inspiration of her own childhood, in a home where someone is always making something. She helps her father in his woodshop, her mother in her flower garden, and eventually is granted her own folding table alongside her mother's sewing machine, where she can keep her projects spread out indefinitely.

Half the magic here are the clean images of hammers, pencils, paintbrushes that seem just waiting to be picked up.

After the first reading, Rosie dubbed this "the painting book" and began asking for it at bedtime. A few renditions later, she wanted a paintbrush of her own. Now that she's enjoyed a few afternoons dabbing herself and everything around her with purple, yellow and red pigment, we may have to invest in our own copy.

I don't mind. For two nights in a row now, when we turn to the story's final pages, my daughter has offered this pleasing observation: "I want to be an artist, Mommy."

When our flowers bloom,
I'm going to paint
a picture of them.
I'll use every color

in my paint box.

Until then, I'll be

working at my table,

because I know,

when I grow up,

I want to be an artist...