I Like It When a Children’s Book Scares Me a Little

I Like It When a Children’s Book Scares Me a Little September 14, 2016

I’m nearly done writing the text for a children’s picture book. It’s called Daisy (at least for now) and here’s how it begins…

Daisy--a preliminary drawing by moi.
Daisy–a preliminary drawing by moi.

There once was a flower and her name was Daisy.

She lived in a fairy forest, beneath her neighbors, a Mr. Birch, and a Mr. Beech, and she had six lovely petals, so soft, and so bright, and she loved them more than anything.

Now the Old North Wind would come through on occasion and he cared nothing for Daisy’s petals; he didn’t give them a thought. He just came and went, storming the world over, lost in his own troubles. But wherever he went he shared his troubles.

And one day, he blew all of Daisy’s petals away.

How’s that for a hook? Want to read more? You’ll have to wait. Below I’ll tell you why.

There’s a story behind the story. When my daughter was small I told her bed-time stories, like many fathers. But my approach differed in this way: I made them up on the spot.


Some of the stories were pretty thin. But this story wasn’t. It adhered to the mind. There was something elemental about it. So, years later, I returned to it.

Now that I’ve written it out I need someone to illustrate it. I could do it, I suppose. I’ve played around with the idea enough to do a little preliminary character development.

But apart from the enormity of the task, I wonder if I’m the right man for the job. Having written the story, I’ve begun to think about the aesthetic, the look I mean, of the illustrations that should accompany the words.

As I’ve thought about my mind is drawn inexorably to the magical, and just a little scary, work of artists who were popular at the turn of the twentieth century. There’s just something about that period that made for children’s books that nothing today can match.

I remember seeing the illustrations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (the fact that there is more than The Wizard of Oz was a revelation). The work of W. W. Denslow, and especially John K. Neill, made a lasting impression. The pictures are tinctured with the sublime. They amuse, and even comfort in a way, but they also have a power I can’t explain.

Then there’s the work of Winsor McKay, Little Nemo in particular. What in the world! (Follow the link.) I mean, look at his stuff. Saying it is imaginative, and brilliantly executed leaves out its most important aspect. And what’s that? Again, I’m at a loss. It just has it.

Then there was the master of the faerie realm, Arthur Rackham, his work on Alice in Wonderland, and the tales of the brothers Grimm again impresses itself upon you, leaving an indelible mark filled by an ineffable something.

What is that something though? It’s an appetite for wildness, but its not a wildness that can be satisfied by mere nature. Artists like McKay and Rackham take us to the very sources that in the normal course of things nature only subtlety and vaguely suggests. But they distill it, and give it to us as strong drink.

As a Christian what do I do with this? I’m not entirely sure, but I know that I like it. And even though I know that there are wicked corners to faerie, there are bright patches too, much like we see in our good world.

It’s all a work in process for me. If you have any thoughts on the matter, please share them below.


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