A Tribute To Robert McCloskey (1914-2003)
Some educational experts believe that television is an evil menace that should be banned from children's lives. I cannot take such an extreme stand for it was the 1960's television program Captain Kangaroo that introduced me, as a child, to the wonderful books of Robert McCloskey. Kids find his books just as interesting and entertaining today as their grandparents did sixty years ago.
Robert McCloskey was raised in Hamilton, Ohio; a typical small town in a typical Midwest state. But McClosky was not your average small town boy. He had a talent, a talent so big that its practice gained him a scholarship to art school in Boston, a talent so big that he was awarded the Prix de Rome to study in Italy after WWII. His talent? Robert McCloskey was an artist. Robert McCloskey was a superb visual storyteller.
McCloskey's stories and illustrations are inspired by the simple daily needs and wants of everyday life: a boy wants to sing but can't, so he teaches himself to play the harmonica; a father looks for a safe home for his family; a little girl and her mother lose track of each other looking for blueberries on a hillside; and a boy gets tangled up in scrapes and hilarious predicaments in a small Midwestern town. McClosky's words and pictures do not magnify our daily life giving it false heroic proportions, but rather, they heighten our awareness, so that we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel more acutely the world all around us.
Today we marvel at contemporary book illustrators' mastery of perspective and viewpoint, but McCloskey did it all long ago. His illustrations show a wide range of viewpoints ranging from a ground- level dirt and grass perspective to one looking down from the sky over a wide vista. As regional authors use words to bring a particular place and setting to life, McCloskey used line to animate landscape and build a compelling sense of place. His characters are idiosyncratic, never "picture perfect." They live and breathe; slouch, shuffle and run. He is such a masterful illustrator and storyteller that when you read his book Lentil to your kids, your cheeks will pucker, too, when old Snape slurps on a lemon.
Robert McCloskey's books have been continually in print since the 1940's, quite an accomplishment considering today's market-driven publishing scene. Borrow them from your neighborhood library and take them home. Read his books aloud with your kids, especially after a long, stressed out day. Like the old red plaid, wool blanket that has been in your family for generations, McCloskey's books will warm you and lift your spirits.
Find Robert McCloskey's books at your local library.
Make Way for Ducklings (1941)
Blueberries for Sal (1948)
One Morning in Maine (1952)
Time of Wonder (1958)
Burt Dow, Deep Water Man (1963)
Homer Price (1943)
Centerburg Tales (1951)
© 2004 Mary Brigid Barrett