It’s Picture Book Month: Give the Gift of Wonder

mabel-rose-version-2

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents —Emilie Buchwald

November is National Picture Book Month. It’s a gentle reminder of the importance of reading printed picture books to the children in our lives. I wish I could tell you what being read to, nestled in my mother’s arms, meant to me, but I didn’t have that kind of mom. What I can impart is the experience of reading to my own kids. It was routine for me to enjoy books with them before they fell asleep. The books I picked out helped them get to know me, and the ones they chose showed me who they were. Our eldest, Rob, was a big fan of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. To this day, no one enjoys the magic of Christmas more than him. One of his sister Bridget’s favorite books was Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide. It was funny, and I suspect Bridget identified with the book’s theme of using brain power to outsmart others to get out of doing chores. Our youngest, Brian, was lulled to sleep nearly every night while I read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon to him. Of course, Good Night Moon was the first book he thought of buying when his son was born. Picture books fueled my children’s capacity to dream and wonder. Pouring over them together was our time to bond.

Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing? Isn’t it love we’re sent here for?—Bonnie Raitt, You

As a young mother, I knew I wanted to illustrate picture books but had no idea one day I would write them too. If I had known that, I would’ve written Love You to the Moon and Back for my kids. Instead, I will be able to read it to my grandchildren. It’s now available on Amazon. Getting the book into print is a dream come true for me. I wrote it so parents and grandparents would have a tangible way to give their little ones a sense of their all encompassing love. It’s message will reassure them throughout their lives. Knowing we are loved is what opens up doors and windows to let the heart fly free. It’s the only lasting gift we can ever give our children.

Love You to the Moon and Back

My daughter-in-law reading “Love you to the Moon and Back” to my grandson

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

It’s Picture Book Month: Give the Gift of Wonder

Mabel Rose - Version 2

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents —Emilie Buchwald

November is National Picture Book Month. It’s a gentle reminder of the importance of reading printed picture books to the children in our lives. I wish I could tell you what being read to, nestled in my mother’s arms, meant to me, but I didn’t have that kind of mom. What I can impart is the experience of reading to my own kids. It was routine for me to enjoy books with them before they fell asleep. The books I picked out helped them get to know me, and the ones they chose showed me who they were. Our eldest, Rob, was a big fan of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. To this day, no one enjoys the magic of Christmas more than him. One of his sister Bridget’s favorite books was Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide. It was funny, and I suspect Bridget identified with the book’s theme of using brain power to outsmart others to get out of doing chores. Our youngest, Brian, was lulled to sleep nearly every night while I read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon to him. Of course, Good Night Moon was the first book he thought of buying when his son was born last April. Picture books fueled my children’s capacity to dream and wonder. Pouring over them together was our time to bond.

Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing? Isn’t it love we’re sent here for?—Bonnie Raitt, You

As a young mother, I knew I wanted to illustrate picture books but had no idea one day I would write them too. If I had known that, I would’ve written Love You to the Moon and Back for my kids. Instead, I will be able to read it to my grandchildren. It’s now available on Amazon. Getting the book into print is a dream come true for me. I wrote it so parents and grandparents would have a tangible way to give their little ones a sense of their all encompassing love. It’s message will reassure them throughout their lives. Knowing we are loved is what opens up doors and windows to let the heart fly free. It’s the only lasting gift we can ever give our children.

My daughter-in-law reading "Love you to the Moon and Back" to my grandson

My daughter-in-law reading “Love you to the Moon and Back” to my grandson

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Being Open to Magic

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W.B. Yeats

Magic is everywhere. Like in my painting it’s right outside your window looking in, frequently unnoticed. It’s not that we don’t believe that anything is possible. Often we are blind to miracles because we have tunnel vision. We are so locked into our limited perception we can’t see what’s smiling at us through the porthole on the ship we’re sailing. It’s good to have dreams and plans but not to map out how they are to be manifested.

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Robertson Davies

Last week while babysitting my grandson, the concept of “seeing only what my mind is prepared to comprehend,” was brought to my attention. While Cameron was napping, I went to the refrigerator to get a bottle knowing that he would be waking soon. When I opened the door, I couldn’t  find the blue carrying case his parents brought his bottles in. From top to bottom, I searched the refrigerator for that case. I looked everywhere, even in the freezer. Eventually, I put on rubber gloves and rooted through the garbage, to make sure I hadn’t thrown it out by accident. No luck. I was comforted that I had discovered a bottle of frozen breast milk in my search but didn’t know what I was going to do for the rest of the day. Finally, it came to me that I should surrender the situation to God and ask for help. And so I did.

I decided to poor a cup of coffee and relax until my little charge awoke. When I reached into the fridge for the creamer, to my surprise, I saw four baby bottles of milk grouped on the bottom shelf. How could I have missed them? I’ll tell you how. I was so fixated on locating the blue case I couldn’t see anything else. Surrendering helped me to loosen the grip on my perception and opened me up to what was right in front of me. It made me wonder how many other things I’ve missed in my life.

“That is certainly one way to look at the matter. There are others.” Patricia C. Wrede

In my mermaid image lives the perfect reminder of why I must stay loose with what I think I know. It’s good to have a vision but let a higher source fine tune it. That is the formula that brought my porthole painting into being. The figures in it are my daughter-in-law and grandson, Cameron. Pam grew up near Boston and spent her summers by the ocean. She has what we like to call saltwater in her veins. When I found out she was pregnant, I immediately began seeing her as a mermaid, stretched out on a rock, holding a shell to her merbaby’s ear. When Cam was born, I prepared for the illustration, by photographing the perfect “mermaid rock” for them to be sunbathing on. Now all I had to do was get photo references of my two muses. That had to be put on hold until Cam was old enough for his mom to hold him while he listened to the sound of the sea in a shell.

The mermaid rock I came across on Lucy Vincent Beach in Martha's Vineyard.

The mermaid rock I came across on Lucy Vincent Beach in Martha’s Vineyard.

One day last July, the plan for my illustration took on a new direction when Pam texted me a selfie of her and Cam. In the photo, Pam’s hair flowed across a pillow and her little guy, laying next to her, had a look of pure wonder on his face. It was magical. I knew the moment I saw it that it was the photo I would base my art on. I’m so grateful I was open enough to see that the sea creatures I wanted to bring to life weren’t sunbathing, but looking through a porthole, right into my soul.

The selfie that pointed my imagination in another direction.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Hope Lives in Books

Bookworm

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book. –Marcel Proust

The drawing above is one of my favorites. It illustrates a scene from a children’s book my sister Laura wrote about author, Lillian Hellman. In her memoir, An Unfinished Woman, Lilly tells of how at age eight she would ditch school unnoticed and hideout in a fig tree next to her home. She rigged a pulley rope for her lunch basket, and made a sling to hold her schoolbooks. To keep her dress and shoes neat she hung them on a nail. It would never do to raise suspicion of her whereabouts. The finishing touch was a comfortable pillow to sink into. She did this once or twice a week. It was here that Lilly learned to read and found a refuge from the adults in her life. The fig tree was her sanctuary where she fell into the holy, wonder of the written word.

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” — Madeleine L’Engle

My sister and I loved that anecdote about Lilly. Being avid readers and tree-climbers in our youth, we understood the haven she had created in those branches. It was her way of having power in a world where she was powerless.

As girls books gave us that same kind of comfort. We not only read to be entertained but unknowingly used it to work out the anguish we lived with. Books were one of the bright spots in a bleak childhood. Our mom didn’t have what it took nurture us. She was a product of the societal expectations of the 1950’s. After marrying our father, she quit the job she loved as a newspaper editor when she became pregnant. She had a child every year for the next four years. Frustrated and ill-equipped to run a household, she directed her rage at us. She was a dead ringer for the wicked queen in the copy of Snow White she had given me. It became a favorite story of mine and I absorbed its message. In its pages lived the hope that despite being under the thumb of an evil queen, there was still room for a happy ending.

Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light. –Vera Nazarian

My mom passed away five years ago. Today I look at her with kinder eyes. I’m certain she did the best she could with what she had. Although there were many things she was not, she did share with us her passion for reading. She was generous with books and our house overflowed with them. And despite being trapped in a life of hurt and misunderstanding I think she now  smiles knowing that inside the books she gave us were placed the keys to freedom.

My Dad and Mom walking over the threshold of high expectations on their wedding day.

My Dad and Mom walking over the threshold of high expectations on their wedding day in 1953.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

I Love You to the Moon and Back

I Love You  the Moon and Back

My love will always light your path

And guide you to the moon and back.

It greets you at the break of day

And whispers from the milky way.

– Sue Shanahan, Love You to the Moon & Back (2014)

 The first time I heard the phrase, “I love you to the moon and back” was in the 1990’s while watching the Rosie O’Donnell Show. Rosie’s son, Parker, had exclaimed it to her when she was tucking him in bed the night before. She thought it was the cutest thing she’d ever heard and had to share it with the world. I don’t know if this term of endearment originated with her son, but as an artist, I couldn’t get the imagery of it out of my mind.

“I love you to the moon and back.” Hmmm, what would that look like? Would the moon be crescent shaped or full? And how does one get to the moon and back? On an airplane? A rocket ship? Or does one simply sprout wings and fly? And who would go to all of that trouble to declare their love anyway?

Soon the answers began to materialize in my head. It’s wonderful to have an imagination. Right off the bat, I knew a boy should be included in the illustration because I’d first heard the expression from Parker O’Donnell. I adored my great-nephew Matt and thought he’d be the perfect subject to base my art on. As the image in my mind’s eye came into focus, I began to make out a little boy riding on a missile to a wise, retro Man in the Moon. Voila! I couldn’t wait to begin.

When Matt’s mom brought him over for me to photograph, I thought I was prepared. I had my son Brian ready to stand in for the missile by getting down on all fours. His mom would set a pajama clad Matt on his back, and I would snap away. I don’t know what I was thinking. How could I have forgotten what a wild child my great-nephew was? I literally only had time to take one shot of Matt before he insisted (and I do mean insisted) on climbing off of Brian’s back. He was done. But that one shot was all I needed. It turned out to be the perfect photo reference to create the lyrical feel I was looking for in my drawing. The creative process is mystical. It has a mind of its own. When I don’t push but instead allow it to come into being, a thing of wonder always emerges.

Creativity is hard to define but its presence is always felt. It’s no accident that it is a derivative of the word Creator. It accesses an energy field that is part of the Divine. What other force could make something out of nothing?

And it’s the same way with love. Although it’s invisible, its effects are always seen. Love takes the puzzle pieces strewn across the floor and puts them together to make something beautiful and whole. Its spark lights our paths. It fills in the holes and gaps. And it’s what inspires a child to say the words a mother will hold dear all the days of her life.

The glimpse of Matt I caught on film.

The glimpse of Matt I caught on film.

 

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All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Time Well Spent

Time together is time well spent,  And time with our children is heaven sent. – Author unknown, found on a vintage sampler

In the above painting, which is more endearing, the fairy or her habitat? No question in my mind, I pick the fairy. Of course, it would be fun to discover the magic of her home, but she, herself, is what would ultimately charm me. I found life imitating art while visiting my daughter in Vermont.

We had been planning my October trip for months. Five days with my Bridget in a land of eclectic shops and bistros at the base of foothills woven with color. We had every day brimming with activities. I couldn’t wait to get there and begin our adventure. The first two days went according to plan. And then on day 3 it happened, without warning,  my back went out. Moment by moment, the pain worsened as we scrambled to get an appointment with a doctor on a Friday afternoon. We were lucky to find a chiropractor who squeezed me in. I did feel better after her adjustments but was advised to take it easy for the rest of my stay. Both Bridget and I were disappointed we had to cancel most of our plans (although, in retrospect, we really just felt bad for each other.) So that afternoon instead of taking her rescue dog on a hike to the reservoir we went to a movie.

Saturday we managed to browse a few shops before my back insisted we return home and ice it. That evening we had no choice but to stay in and watch a movie and sip some wine. But do you know what? We had a blast. We came to the realization the whole point of my trip was for us to be together. Sure Vermont is a beautiful place to explore but it doesn’t hold a candle to the pleasure of my daughter’s company. That night as I lay in bed my heart echoed the words of Kitty Carlisle Hart, “Each morning I wake up and say, ‘Dear Lord, I don’t want anything better; just send me more of the same.'”

Always my muse, Bridget modeled for the above illustration at age 10.

Always my muse, Bridget modeled for the above illustration at age 10.

Bridget and Nelson - a moment captured on my trip.

Bridget and Nelson – a moment captured on my trip.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

www.sueshanahan.com