Sunday, December 19, 2010

Remy Charlip, The Swinging Doors, and Sequence

Two octopuses got married and walked down the aisle arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm.
So begins Remy Charlip's 1969 book, Arm in Arm, which is summarized in the 1997 edition as "an illustrated collection of verses, tongue twisters, riddles, and endless tales all of which feature a play on words and images."

This would have been my bedside book, my one-book-on-a-desert-island book if I had owned it when I first saw it in Mrs. Muff's second grade classroom. Looking through this book then inspired me to gather friends and put on the silly short plays it contained and to attempt to create elaborate doodles like Charlip's. The bite-sized stories, puns,  and drawings were on my wavelength. It is the first book I can remember asking for as a gift.

Charlip has written at least twenty-seven other books for children since then, but for some reason I only have two others, Thirteen, and Fortunately. Even just these three books can inspire writing, drawing, and bookmaking in makers of any age.

Thirteen is a collaboration with Jerry Joyner from 1975 and has a similar aesthetic to Arm in Arm with detailed drawings and colorful watercolor tinting of the illustrations. Joyner and Charlip worked on the book over nine years, each painting an image, then trading it and creating a response that followed a narrative. Ultimately they chose thirteen of the picture-stories and organized the book. To help the reader remember all the stories at once the next two sequences are presented on the page in miniature as well. You can follow one set of drawings all the way through or try to remember all of them at once. It is a good example of a commercially printed book that works like book art with multiple texts, and an excellent way to introduce the concept of sequence to pre-readers or artists who prefer to work with images only.

Fortunately was shown to me by some elementary school teachers in my town. They read it in the classroom as a preliminary activity to encourage kids to make their own books with a similar theme. The copyright date is 1964, the edition I have is from 1993. The book begins, "Fortunately one day, Ned got a letter that said, 'Please Come to a Surprise Party.'" Next page: "But unfortunately the party was in Florida and he was in New York." Does Ned get to the party? Spoiler alert: fortunately he does, but only after going through many fortunate and unfortunate adventures. The illustrations in the book alternate between colorful for the "fortunately" pages and black and white for the "unfortunately" pages, which makes for a great read-aloud experience. Even kids who can't read will yell out "fortunately" or "unfortunately" as they get their cues from the colors.

Charlip, a dancer all his life in addition to being a writer and artist, clearly likes collaborations and inventions and sequence. In a short video he explains his "airmail dances." He started drawing about thirty or forty figures in different positions and "didn't think of how one figure would get to another figure." He gave them to other dancers, mailing some around the world; the other dancers "worked on the transitions." Each dancer could put the dance together however s/he liked. He says, "It is their dance and also my dance." He also says that he could not have invented this project if he also did not draw. I don't think he divides creative activities into compartments; each is a part of the other, informing the other, inspiring the other, and all connected by what happens next.
The book is like a series of swinging doors in which every turning of the page brings you into another world. And not only brings you into another world, but continues the thought in either a wild way or a logical way or some way that is developmental, is about a sequence, it's about how you would go from one thing to another.
Remy Charlip, about three minutes into the video 




2014: video was moved to the new link, above. Remy Charlip died in 2012.

1 comment:

Tomika said...

Thank you for introducing this wonderfully creative person! Now I want to try to get my hands on Arm in Arm and Thirteen.