Wednesday, March 15, 2017

In Memory of Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Today's blog will be about the author I will never have the pleasure of meeting: Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

I was wandering around the picture books at my local Barnes and Noble. I like to check out what's new (and also see what's not on the shelves so that I can develop ideas to fill the gaps). The first book I noticed was Give Please a Chance written by Bill O'Reilly and James Patterson. This book makes me angry because I think Bill and James are just trying to make money, and to do so they've churned out (probably with the help of ghost authors) an overly simplistic text that talks down to children, lacks inventiveness, parodies a beloved John Lennon's song for its title, and gathers together a variety of talented artists to present an assortment of illustrations rather than a single vision (that would probably have resulted in the illustrator receiving a lot more of the royalties). I didn't mean to go off the deep-end about Patterson's books today, but I wanted to give context as to how I was feeling. I was feeling annoyed and bitter about Give Please a Chance. Trees should not have died for that book.

I figured that my bookstore vibe was ruined for the day, but then this cover caught my attention:

I was curious about the subtitle, "A story about believing." So, I stood there and read the book from beginning to end. (yes, I'm one of those bookstore people.) A salesperson (who probably thought it odd that a 45 year old man is reading a unicorn book) asked if I was interested in a sale on "Good Night, Goodnight, Construction Site." But I wanted to concentrate on Uni. 

I loved the premise of the story: a young unicorn is different from her unicorn friends because she believes in the existence of little girls. I hadn't paid attention to the author's name until I reached the end. Then, looking at the cover again, I thought: "Oh, Amy Krouse Rosenthal... She wrote Exclamation Point and Wish You More" and, I recalled, many other beautifully written manuscripts matched up with exquisite art. 

I left the bookstore with Amy's message on my mind, recalling memories of my own childhood when nothing was impossible. 

Then, two days later Amy passed away. News of her death spread through Facebook feeds. She died of ovarian cancer. Those that knew her (and those who read her heartbreaking New York Times column "You Might Want to Marry My Husband") knew that the end was near. I had no idea. I didn't follow her on social media (and now I wish I had, I bet she was pretty funny on Twitter). I admired her work but knew nothing about her personal life. 

My strongest memory of her work as a writer was the Barnes-and-Noble moment I just described, when she was still alive but, unbeknownst to me, very close to death. Unlike the Patterson / O'Reilly book, I wasn't jealous or bitter about the author's success. I was standing there thinking, I love this woman's work. I can't wait to see what the future brings. 

When I find out that someone has died, my reaction (probably a defensive one) is to calculate how long they have lived, how much they have experienced, and how sad their loved ones must feel. If someone dies at the age of 80, I think something like: "Well, they had a decent run." If they get above 85, I upgrade that to "a pretty good run." If they reach ninety or above then I think "They led a very full life." But when the numbers are lower, I say things like "Oh, he left us too soon." (That's for folks in their 60s and 70s). 

Amy Krouse Rosenthal left us when she was only 51. For a writer of her caliber, the phrase "gone too soon" doesn't do justice to the level of loss. It seems that in that half a century she lived well and loved well. As an artist, she accomplished a great deal in a relatively short amount of time. Yet, as she says in her column, she would have liked to have had "more." 

"More" was apparently her very first spoken word as a child. It was the word she decided to have tattooed on her skin. The desire for MORE time must have been so strong after she was diagnosed with cancer. 

I am grateful for the books she has created. And grateful even more for the ones that have yet to be released. (There is a sequel of Uni the Unicorn that will be galloping our way this September). 

I do wish for more, though. Very selfishly. I wish she could have lived much longer, not just for the sake of her family -- although of course that's the most important thing -- but as a profound lover of children's literature and picture books, I wish that Rosenthal could have lived long enough to become a grandmother. Here books are already so wise, and most of them were written when she was in her 30s and 40s. Can you imagine the tales Grandma Amy could have told generations of children? Or better yet, her writing as a great-grandmother? 

I love Amy's books, but by God I wish we had more. 

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