By Sheryl Haft
Walking a city street one spring afternoon, I heard from behind me the voice of a little girl. “Don’t worry, baby,” she reassured the red-haired doll that was safely buckled into its doll stroller. “I know you’re very hungry. We’ll be home soon!”
With her grandmother walking by her side, the girl, only about 3-years old, wore a pink beret on her small head, but also the care and confidence of a grown-up mom. They were three generations of sorts: Grandmother, Mother and Baby (Doll).
I instantly thought of Lucy, the beloved doll of my childhood whose original clothing had become so tattered that my mother ever-so-kindly knitted a colorful, replacement wardrobe of sweaters, dresses and matching hats. And then, the years of shuttling my own three young daughters to the local New York City playground, with not only a day’s worth of snacks and supplies, but also a caravan of doll strollers. I pushed the double-wide stroller loaded with sand toys and baby wipes while my three daughters pushed their baby dolls along in toy strollers. We were a rag-tag stroller-circus, parading past taxis, crossing the bus lane and then clattering through the iron gates of Central Park. Inside lay the freedom of the playground, where city kids and imaginations could run, and where little girls like mine would spend countless hours playing with and caring for their babies. Occasionally, a little boy would join in playing mommy too.
Why did I as a child, and then my own girls love playing with our dolls and playing “mommy”? And why do kids all over the world seem drawn to doing the same?
Clinical psychologist Laura Hutchison* says: “In carrying, holding, feeding, and rocking a baby doll, children are practicing being loving to others. They may be modeling how they remember being taken care of as a baby, or how they see adults in their world caring for children. Just as children copy parents talking on the phone, working in the kitchen, vacuuming, etc., doll play is no different. It is children’s way to understand and begin to make the world their own by practicing these everyday events.”
It seems to me a brilliant plan of humankind, that young children are inclined to role-play parenting and to “practice being loving to others.” What a beautiful, foundation on which to build a joyful life. Those years of doll-play offered something else too: the opportunity for children to immerse in an imaginative world all their own. Hearing that girl with the pink beret talking to her baby doll, I was struck by how much control she seemed to feel in her little world. How she was already learning to be independent and “in charge.” And in seeing my daughters and other little ones spin their dolls up to the clouds or discover secret places under a shady tree, I rejoiced in how able and free they were to go anywhere their imaginations would take them.
My newest book, Baby-Boo, I Love You, delightfully rendered by artist Jane Massey, is the story of an imaginative little girl who from morning until bedtime and in sunshine and stormy weather, revels in the joy of caring for her cherished doll. What lies beneath is the story of all mommies and caretakers who have through the generations, passed on the beautiful practice of “being loving.” I hope that Baby-Boo, I Love You will help illuminate the loving caretaker in all of us.
Why Kids Should Play with Baby Dolls (YES, even BOYS!)
THE MAKING OF A CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK: Words, Music and Robert Louis Stevenson
By Sheryl Haft
I often think of picture book text as a kind-of theater script: words meant to be read aloud, improvised, animated and performed. The audience might be one child tucked close, or at other times, a wired or tired, tumbly and jumbly circle of small children, their attention-time, tic-ticking.
I knew that I wanted to write a story about a child’s imaginative adventure with a beloved blankie. But I also wished for my story to be joyful and engaging for its readers and listeners; in spirit, less “one-person show,” and more “improv” and participatory–like a sing-along.
That’s when I realized what many favorite picture books have in common: musicality. Not in the traditional, musical-note sense, but with rhythmic beats and melodic language that make the books pleasing to both read and to hear. Sometimes in rhyme, but not always, the best texts lilt along and roll off the tongue, adding sing-songy fun to a read-aloud:
In an old house in Paris
That was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls
In two straight lines.
They left the house at half-past-nine
In two straight lines, in rain or shine.
The smallest one was Madeline.
— MADELINE by Ludwig Bemelmans, 1939
Can’t you just feel the jaunty joy of these opening lines?
For extra-inspiration, I read and re-read a master of children’s poetry and verse: Robert Louis Stevenson. In The Swing, not only do Stevenson’s words and meters flow beautifully, but with their pendulum-like rhythm we practically swing along for the ride too:
— Robert Louis Stevenson; A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES, 1885
While my story of a child and a beloved blankie was to be for readers younger than Bemelmans’ MADELINE, and its text, not as poetic as Stevenson’s verse, I still aspired to imbue it with rhythm, rhyme and joyfulness.
When sharing I LOVE YOU, BLANKIE, readers and listeners can tap along, feeling the romping 1-2 beat of each line. There’s fun in saying alliterative words like All aboard, Blankie. Sail the seas so high. And the repetition and wonder of “what’s next?”: Up and away, Blankie! Up in a balloon. Then, at the end of the little adventure: Rock-a-bye, lullaby—rhyming, swaying words that gently slow the action with comfort and care.
I LOVE YOU, BLANKIE can be a catalyst for imaginative play and a cue for hugging goodnight and curling up tight. But most of all, I hope that like the magic of a little theater, the story is a happy, shared experience for its readers and performers, listeners, make-believers and dreamers.
Here we go, Blankie.
Ready? Hold on tight!
Up and away, Blankie.
Fly out to the night!
All aboard, Blankie.
Sail the seas so high.
Float atop a mighty whale.
Ride up to the sky!
Up and away, Blankie!
Up in a balloon.
Up above the Milky Way.
Up beside the moon.
Slide along a shooting star.
Glide down into bed.
Time to snuggle, Blankie.
Hug and cuddle, too
Blankie, I love you!
— I LOVE YOU, BLANKIE by Sheryl Haft, Illustrated by Jane Massey, 2015
ON BECOMING A CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK WRITER
By Sheryl Haft
What started as an irresistible urge to try and capture some of the beauty and humor of my daughters’ childhoods turned into my journey to becoming (aka trying to become) a children’s book writer. All I had to do was:
Re-writeRe-writeRe-write. Get an agent. GetRejectedRejectedRejected. Get depressed. WriteWriteRe-write. Take classes. Meet a mentor. Make a writing group. Get better agent. Get close. GetRejectedRejectedRejected. Get fed-up. Get 10lbs of chocolate. Eat 10 lbs of chocolate. WriteWriteWrite. SketchSketchSketch. Get closer. Find an illustrator. Fly to London. Train it to Hove. Fall in (figurative) love with illustrator. Hire. Inspire. Peek. Tweak. Wish. Wait.
Until fatefully, finally, 673 years later, I got good news! I laid on the kitchen floor and cried. Got a contract. Got my husband to accept that new children’s book authors work pretty much for free. Said “Goodbye” to four beautiful book pages. Said “Hello, happy, beautiful, wonderful pub. date!”
It’s been a super-long, labyrinth-like journey, but the truth is, I’ve loved every minute of it.
Now, it makes me so happy that I LOVE YOU, BLANKIE–with its adorable illustrations by Jane Massey–might bring to even one child and parent, a joyful and imaginative moment together.
My love of being a children’s book author remains truer than ever, as to me, there’s nothing more inspirational than encouraging a child’s imagination. I look forward to sharing creative and inspiring thoughts and ideas with you in this Imaginator Blog.