Written and Illustrated by Philip C. Stead
Roaring Brook Press, 2016
Today outside my house the sunflower opened up.
The plot in a nutshell: A writer finds inspiration all around him.
The narrator has to write a story, but doesn’t have any ideas. It’s a nice day, so he goes for a walk with his dog, Wednesday. They walk past the river and say hello to Frank, a turtle. They see their friend, Barbara, who lives in a blue house with several pets, and they promise to come back to visit. The narrator remembers when he lived in her house and when he spilled paint on the sidewalk and it looked like a blue horse. He sees the words ‘STOP WAR’ on the boardwalk and he supports the sentiment. He speaks to ducks and a bird in the water, but none of them have any story ideas. A train goes by and he thinks about where the passengers are going. He passes the soup kitchen and watches the sky and remembers buying his typewriter. They go back to Barbara’s and he tells her he’s having trouble coming up with ideas and she points out that ideas are everywhere. They talk about all sorts of things, past and present and all their conversation follows him home, where he starts typing on his typewriter.
Bookshelf favorite Philip C. Stead shares a very personal story that’s not so much a story as it is a slice of his own life. In an essay he wrote, he states that this book is a combination of ideas, pictures and written notes and although he says that it’s about the process of creating, it’s really more about the process of living life. A particularly noteworthy insight that he shares in the essay is that the walk he takes with Wednesday (who actually is his dog) happened on the day that Wednesday was diagnosed with cancer (which he overcame). One of the Polaroid pictures of the sky included in the book was taken this same day, when Mr. Stead felt the strangeness of feeling so bad on such a beautiful day.
There are other Polaroid photographs included in the book’s artwork and there are collages, various monoprint techniques and even special text imprints made by his manual typewriter. It’s a strange visual journal of different ideas that he pulls together with text that is poetic and beautiful at times and sparse and direct at other times. I would be fascinated to see what children make of this book, because it feels more conceptually geared toward adults. For myself, I loved it right away and my appreciation for it deepened after reading the additional insight from his essay. He continues to be a favorite.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all you have to do is look around to see all the wonderful inspiration just waiting for you.