Reading List

Where the Charming Things Are

Three years before Maurice Sendak published his own authored-and-illustrated now-classic children’s picture book, “Where the Wild Things Are,” he provided the line drawings for Ruth Krauss’ “Open House for Butterflies,” originally copyrighted in 1960. I found the reissued slim hardcover among the treasures in the children’s section of one of my favorite local shops, Take Heart, when showing off bits of Austin to my middle daughter (in-law’s) visiting mother. In the simplicity of black ink lines against a sepia background, crosshatching to shade and contour, proportions exactly right to convey the deliciousness of those round cheeks and bellies of early childhood, Sendak’s illustrations capture the whimsy and delight of both the parents and their progeny in a story that has a strong, contemporary sense of the absurd. Krauss voices the lyrical declarative statements of her rotating child narrators without a single full stop in the punctuation; only their interrogative sentences end with question marks, their exclamations with !
This was a week of moments of satisfying work toward my doctorate; of connections with family, friends, and cohort; of an enthralling range of weather and wind. Mostly, though, it was a week of nearly constant physical discomfort/pain—and the light weight of this volume in my hands, its visual beauty, and the musings of its cavorting characters were exactly the poetry I have needed for tiny, nourishing nibbles of both distraction and solace. “Open house for butterflies is a good thing to have” three children note, bowing to the incoming butterflies, welcoming them with side-sweeping arms. “I like little thunder” another child notes, as snug in his tiny home surrounded by a picketed yard as we have been tonight in ours as an electrical storm front has blown through. And—always good advice, which I hope to take tomorrow as part of R.’s and my walk around Lady Bird Lake—“Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen”