Wednesday, August 5, 2009

For Love of the Ordinary

We’re home from California now; the whole trip was wonderful, so I don’t know why I posted earlier that I want to be a stay-at-home. I want to travel, travel, travel!

One of the highlights of the trip was our day at the Getty Center, the stunning array of buildings and gardens displaying J. Paul Getty’s equally stunning art collection. And one of the highlights of the collection, for me, was discovering the photography of Jo Ann Callis. For starters, she was a mom who came late to the life of an artist. Maybe that’s what taught her to see the beauty in the humblest objects. I especially loved her black-and-white photographs of a change purse, a deflated balloon, a shoehorn – as well as her downright decadent, even prurient, color photographs of French desserts posed against satin bed covers. I remembered the line from John Updike: “My only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me – to give the mundane its beautiful due.”

This is what I try to do in my own work as a children’s book author: to focus careful, loving attention on the small moments of a child’s life. The questions the kids in my books struggle with are small, but hardly unimportant. Is Wilson going to get the ice cream cone promised to third graders who learn all their times tables by the class deadline? Will Oliver be allowed to attend the third-grade space sleepover?

To give the mundane its beautiful due.

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