New Year, Old Childhood Books

January 1 – January 8

One of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis, in a letter written to his goddaughter:

Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

For me, that time may be coming sooner than expected. There is a sudden longing for books again first read during mid-morning visits to the library at Mountain View Elementary School, only 6 years old and never forgetting the stories of Frog and Toad and Rainbow Fish or freaking out over what happened to Ms. Nelson. Simple stories that most of all, excited the senses with their illustrations. I drew a lot as a little girl, and mostly just copying those books if not scenes from Disney movies. When you’re young like I was when reading these silly books, they’re anything but silly, shaping the world for you through rich colors and cozy little pond-side burrows and even down to the frills of a lovely dress. The allure for good books as a child is unforgettable artwork– things you’ll see first before the actual entire world.

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I still haven’t seen much of the world, but I’ve lived long enough where sometimes when I clock out of work right at 5 or overthink anything that gets my blood pressure up (which can be most things as an underpaid young adult in a big city), all I want is to escape back into one of those books. And on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the first day of a brand new year, I stepped into Green Apple Books on the Park and browsed the children’s corner for sometime. I didn’t leave empty-handed.

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Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

Of all the childhood tales, the drawings of Miss Rumphius took me in, enchanted and showed me the beauty of innocence which I would forever take away from its story. A little girl who grew up doing the three dreams that would change life for the better: travel the world, live by the sea, and do something beautiful for the world. It was the last task she, Miss Rumphius, found the hardest to do, so daunting and yet so vague. As she tried figuring out what it would be, the story’s soft colors and delicate depictions of Main seaside to the far away lands like Egypt or the Bahamas reeled in its readers, wholly convinced that yes! Miss Rumphius, you live in such an incredibly beautiful world, please do something to preserve it!

(Even Miss Rumphius herself had no idea how she would achieve it, declaring on page _, “The world is pretty nice already.”)

Our titular character finds that making the world beautiful was easy after all– she sprinkled seeds of lupine in her village and along the coast where they bloomed into deep shades of pink, purple, and sky blue. By the story’s end, Miss Rumphius is old and white-haired and reminds children of the neighborhood to carry on these deeds to have a full life. On that last note was a lasting impression, a cycle if you’d like to call it that, for a young reader such that I was. For how was it that a kid’s picture book no bigger than 20 pages could tell a person how to enjoy life– get excited about it while all at the same time add to its wonder? That’s just why I know that I need fairy tales again in my life, way beyond 6 or 7 years old and sick of the hardening reality I am in now. A child wouldn’t know this same reality, they haven’t grown up to be aware of breakups, overdrawn account fees, crowded public transportation in the rain, or doing dishes after Thai food takeout. But we all need children’s literature, depicting the world for all its unique possibilities through their magical pictures, a reminder that the world is still the same one as you were a child– only thing is, you are not a child anymore.

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Favorite illustration of Miss Rumphius

I am still trying to accomplish those three tasks from the book I now own and have placed like a Bible right there on my nightstand. I’ve lived by the sea, if you’d consider Ocean Beach only 40 minutes away by bus or working in a skyscraper with breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay. I’ve seen little of the world beyond the East Coast, but I’m slowly chipping away at those borders into new continents and over oceans, but what places I have seen show me how diverse even my home country can be, for better or for worse.

And then there’s this “world beauty” part– how, or when? Then maybe– maybe I have already started this. Every time I walk along Sansome towards the 1 California Street line and greet the old man with the long, white-haired ponytail bent over with a dirty coffee cup for change held out. Or the seats I give up when children or elderly jump onto the bus. With the glass door into my office that I hold open for our front desk security as he thanks me running in as to not be late from his lunch. One of these nights I gave what change I had to the pony tail gentleman with a “Happy New Year!” and then came across a new face: Cindy. In a scooter where she fastened plastic bags stuffed with her personal belongings, she smiled up at me and asked what I did for a living. Her eyes were a lovely soft gray in the street light and her voice a jolly tune– things I took note of as I told her I was a writer. As we shook hands and exchanged names, she sincerely hoped that we cross paths again so that I may show her my work.

These beautiful things I find aren’t in how to create or maintain a literal, beautiful world, but even to keep its beauty alive through what daily interactions I have with it, especially its people. So it’s not so hard, not so bad. Actually, helping the world keep its beauty is in no way bad, and it shouldn’t be something we forget. But we do. But that’s where children’s stories come in, like fairies of their own right waltzing from shelves to save us from ourselves, our loss of memory for better, simpler views. And when you help the world, you’ll see that it’s a cycle, that when everyone does something for this world, it’s for each other.

So like fairy tale magic, there’s always a way to make things even more lovely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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