When I was very young, I was a very creative student, not the sort of student that did well on exams and memorizing facts. What I was good at was coming up with innovative ideas and inventing new ways of doing things. Sadly, this did not impress the nuns at Sacred Heart Elementary School in hometown of Massena, New York. They did not like my innovations and inventions.
I remember creating a pop-up biography of the Portuguese explorer Magellan when in fifth or sixth grade. It had pop-up ships and fold-out maps. It was heavily illustrated in full color and it even had ornamental cap letters at the beginning of each chapter.
When I got my super-duper 3D biography back from the teacher, it was marked all over with red pencil. On the title page was a very big red “D” in a very big red circle. It even had a note from the teacher to see her after class. At the end of my little masterpiece was a note that said something like this: “JUST DO THE ASSIGNMENT”
You can imagine my disappointment. The reprimand that followed scolded me for not sticking to the rules, not doing what I was asked and to "never turn my homework into an art project ever again".
Strangely, this was the same teacher that frequently asked me to come in after school to write her next day notes on the chalkboard in my beautiful handwriting.
I was bewildered and perplexed.
I could have had an artistic crisis and shut down forever.
Miraculously, I did not shut down forever. I just had to wait a while. I knew that she wanted me to be like all of the other students but I had been bitten by the artistic bug years before and there was no cure. I was myself and could not forget that.
A few years later, I happened to be a student in a public junior high school that had art classes. I stumbled into the art room and was given an art assignment. I was encouraged to not stick to the rules and not be like anyone but myself.
For me, it was art that gave me the chance to become myself, to be happy and to eventually become an artist.
I tell this story as an introduction to my latest picture book titled FREDDIE & GINGERSNAP FIND A CLOUD TO KEEP. My first book about these characters was all about dance and how to take flight with someone else. This second book is about finding a song. Finding a voice. Finding something that you have been told can not be.
My little dinosaur and dragon characters find themselves in the clouds and Freddie, the dinosaur, wants to keep a cloud. The kind of cloud that he wants to keep is a song that he hears. The song that he hears is not a song like any other. It is something new that he has known all along was worth singing.
This book was an adventure and experiment to create. My editor Kevin Lewis and I took some chances. We tried something new. We created a book about learning to sing. It is about having a voice and finally finding a way to use it. To learn a song is terribly important, in my opinion. If all else fails, you have something that no one can take away.
In fact, on the back endpages is “A Cloud’s Song” that I composed and wrote the lyrics to. Anyone can sing it. Anyone can play it!
My hope is that I might create a song that others could sing and realize that they too have a song that is all their own.
In 1998, I wrote a poem as prologue for my book titled THE BETWIXTS.
This is what I wrote:
Each person changes the world.
Some for the better.
Some for the worse.
Someone might build a wall to keep others out.
Someone else might build a house for others come home to.
Someone may step upon a flower.
Someone may plant a garden.
A cruel word might be spoken.
A poem might be written.
Someone might start a war.
Someone else might start to sing a song that passes from person to person to person.
Here is a book.
Here is a song.
Here is an experiment about sharing a song with the world.
Here, at last, is a reminder to share your own special song too!
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