In 1944, Many Moons, a book written by James Thurber and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, won the Caldecott Award for the best American picture book for children. It was a story about a little princess who overindulged in raspberry tarts, got sick, and took to her bed, declaring that she would only get better when someone brought her the moon.
Slobodkin was well known as an architectural sculptor, before he turned his attention to the drawing of pictures for children’s books. Going from creating sculptures of epic proportions to making small drawings for children’s books is quite a change, but Slobodkin said the difficult part wasn’t the difference of scale because sculpture usually starts with pencil sketches anyway; the difficult part was the new mode of thinking necessary during the creative process. “When you start a sculpture,” he explains, “you develop one main thought and all sketches and primary indications tend towards developing that idea. Moving from this one-composition and one-idea way of thinking to the crackle of thinking of hundreds of compositions within a short space of time was the main difficulty.”
As illustrator for Many Moons, Slobodkin had no contact with the author, Thurber. He only had the manuscript, which was short and contained no descriptions of the main characters or the settings, so he gave his own imagination free reign and devised them from scratch. He always wanted his characters to be fully realized and seen as human beings, and his musings during the development of the princess went like this:
Hummmm. “She was little, and ate too many raspberry tarts and went to bed and stayed there except once when she went out to play in the garden. This might indicate that the princess was an indolent fat little glutton. Or she was an only child and nothing but the moon would suit her, so perhaps she was impudent and imperious used to making adults run around seeing to her every wish. But, she might be just a little girl (incidently a princess) who ate just a little too much, say half a tart. A little girl, a little stomach, a little spoiled and being just a little difficult.” He felt that since she was the heroine and heroines should arouse sympathy, it was best to present her as the latter, so he created a slightly fragile, entirely charming little girl surrounded by a cast of other witty, rounded, lovable characters; and she does get her moon.
The warmth and energy that emaninates from the illustrations for this book demonstrate Slobodkin’s goal of getting as much humanity through the rollers of a press as he could. “It may clog the presses,” he said, “but it’s worth trying.”
Copyright 2006© Rita Smith
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Monday, 28-Aug-2006 15:05:48 EDT