A few weeks ago, Ken and I were all dressed up and heading to a party in the middle of Manhattan. The occasion was my agent’s fifteenth anniversary party and I had in tow a picture book, Mitchell Goes Bowling, by Hallie Durand, illustrated by Tony Fucile, that I wanted to get signed by the author.
I knew she would be at the party, and I had every intention of getting her to sign it. (Confession: I will haul a book thousands of miles in order to get a signature).
At any rate, our stop was a ways off, so I decided to show the book to Ken while we rolled along the tracks.
Our car was crowded and noisy, but that was okay. I was only sharing it with Ken, who sat right next to me. That is, I thought I was only sharing it with Ken. At one point I stopped to show him a particular illustration that just made me laugh, but while we were pausing on that page, the young man on the other side of Ken said, “Hey, keep reading!”
Then another person chimed in with, “Don’t stop!” I looked up, and all of the people in our end of the car were staring at me and smiling. Without even knowing it, the book had drawn in at least a dozen people. I didn’t need any more prompting. I held the book up and read the last few pages.
As I closed the book, everyone started clapping. Of course they did! It’s a book that merits applause.
I have had so many happy reading experiences in my life, and many of them have occurred while traveling, from all the books I read to my kids as we drove down the road, to the many books that I’ve read on airplanes, but that one on the subway made my heart sing.
Here we were, strangers, each of us wrapped up in our own worlds, each of us going our own ways, and each of us in the presence of that most wondrous of all literary accomplishments, a picture book, and in this case, a book that calls for a “steaming hot potato dance.”
As we rolled to our stop, Ken and I waved to our fellow readers. We had shared such a small moment, but also such a happy moment. There are many glories in a picture book. There is the wonderful economy of text. There is the highly satisfying experience of the perfect match of text to art. There is the art itself. But most important is the glory that comes from sharing it. Voice, as it turns out, is a most essential ingredient, turning a book into that fundamentally human enterprise–story.
The members of our small subway cadre will likely never meet again in our lifetimes, but we will always be part of each others’ lives now because we did something together that people have been doing since the dawn of time—we took a story, we took the art of it, we put it all together, we went along for the ride.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is what it’s all about.
Have any of you ever had an unusual picture book reading experience? Tell us about it, why don’t you!