Tag Archives: children’s drawings

When our legs grew out of our heads

Creepy stone bunny stumbled upon in the forest sometime last century

Creepy stone bunny stumbled upon in the forest sometime last century

Once upon a time I used a Polaroid camera and went around taking pictures of things that inspired me. Mossy tombstones and cabbage moths and trees growing in strange places. It was so satisfying, the way the image slid out of the camera, presented in a tidy white frame. Often I liked the mistakes best — the things that showed up in the image that I hadn’t expected.

I don’t take so many photographs anymore, but there are days when I’m out walking that I mentally collect images. I can feel a kind of shutter clicking in my mind when I see certain things: a man strolling across the street from his apartment building in shorts, t-shirt and fuzzy brown slippers, cigarette tucked behind his ear. When I click my imaginary camera, the corner store at the other side of the street is visible in the frame, and I know he’s going to get matches. He can’t be bothered to put shoes on. I store the image away in that mysterious place where stories gather.

I have piles of dusty old photos getting blurry over time. When I open the box I keep them in, I smell the toxic smell of a Polaroid photo ripped open — because for a while this is what I would do to the odd photo, tear the white frame off and take the backing away so I could see the wall through the image pinned on it.  Now our walls are full of children’s drawings instead. But I sense a parallel in the way my daughter collects images. We come home from any number of adventures and she draws what she remembers — what stood out to her from the day. Or we read the Roald Dahl‘s The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) and she draws the pictures in a style surprisingly like Quentin Blake.

Chapter Two: Sophie meets the BFG

Chapter Two: Sophie meets the BFG

It’s amazing to watch the stages of a child’s drawing — from squiggly, nonsensical lines to somewhat recognizable shapes, and then to heads with legs growing out of them. And then to curly eyelashes and lips and people in profile and landscapes that show an understanding of perspective. Apparently the stages are remarkably similar for most children, and have names like “pre-tadpole” and “tadpole” — the latter being a circle with at least two lines coming out of it.

The AAA Lab at Stanford sees it this way: “A common explanation for the ubiquitous tadpole stage is that children are merely trying to symbolize a person and do not put a premium on realism. While this may be true, it does not explain the specific tadpole form…. when children look down at their bodies, they see their arms coming from their head. (Stretch your arms to the side and then look down.) Therefore, early on, children draw pictures combining their head and body as one component. ” Check out the Lab’s children’s drawing page for more.

Unhappy tadpole?

Unhappy tadpole?

Just as an aside, check out The Impossible Project, which intends to bring new life to the Polaroid camera and its factory in Enschede, NL. The site lays out the history and the challenges ahead, and quotes the inventor of instant photography, Edwin Land: “Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”


Filed under Uncategorized

Open here and start

writeI recently rediscovered a pile of old stories and drawings I’d made when I was about the age my daughter is now. She, too, loves to make “books,” and whenever we end up in a conversation with someone about the fact that I am a writer, she pipes up, “I’m a writer too.” Sometimes we take one of her homemade books to the library, and sneak it on to a shelf, as in Daniel Kirk’s Library Mouse, in the hopes another reader will discover and enjoy it. It strikes me that she is very conscious of the book itself, not just the story it contains. She’s aware of the author and, when applicable, the illustrator. She talks about the cover and the flap that protects it (and wraps her own creations in plastic so they won’t stand out from the rest on the shelf); she’s aware of the chapter titles and the page numbers, and she loves bookmarks.

Some of my own first books contain instructions:

bk1before moving into the actual world of the story. This particular example comes from my version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, and it’s interesting for me to see that such a story continued to fascinate me for decades. One of these days I will post a more updated version of The Ugly Duckling, about a boy who runs away from home. But for now, here is my first try, circa 1972.



bk4I love the line “it wasn’t a chicken at all” — actually I used it again later, but more about that another time. I also love the red checkmark at the end — how good it must have felt to see that. The equivalent of a great review these days, or a kind letter from a reader.

Lately, as September approaches, I’m excited for my daughter to start Grade One and be in school full time. She is in for so many adventures, and I get to watch all of that unfold. September has that odd mix of beginning and ending about it — a melancholy feeling and a wide open sense of possibility at the same time. It’s strange how that lasts, for so many people, into adulthood.

I’m looking forward to my own “open here and start” when she is off to school, too. Although I’ve written all through the last six years, I’ve had to use pockets of time and wee hours (again, like Library Mouse, who works through the night in the school library, experimenting with various genres). I remember cradling my newborn on my lap while I tinkered on the last drafts of Origin of Haloes. And nearly falling asleep at my desk during The Occupied Garden. Now the days will be clear and consistent; structured. But as is the way with milestones, there is something lost here too.



Filed under Uncategorized