Today I am honored to share a beautiful poem that was recently read aloud at the Jane Addams Peace Association Children’s Book Awards ceremony at the United Nations Plaza.
It was written by esteemed Hawaii-based author and illustrator James Rumford, and was inspired in part by a conversation he had with President Obama’s sister Maya Soetero Ng about the importance of using children’s books to promote peace. I was moved by this timeless, powerful message, words we all need to hear now more than ever.
how could I,
just one person,
to this fighting world.
I might as well try
to touch the clouds
or journey to the stars
or travel to the far
corners of the globe.
Yet each time I
let raindrops fall
on my upturned face,
it is the clouds
out of reach
that touch me.
Each time I
dance in the twin-
it is the stars
so far away
that have journeyed
to meet me.
Each time I
take the first step
and go where
it is the world
that opens up
Each time I
just one person,
and make a friend,
it is peace
I call it “eye-opening” because of Jim’s candor. He speaks freely about editor-author relationships, his disillusionment with the lack of creative nurturing by editors, why he thinks so many authors are turning to self-publishing, and ultimately what it would take for publishing to survive.
I share his wish that publishing houses were smaller (like in the old days), “when publishers cared about their authors and considered it important to nurture the fragile egos they had taken under their wing.” At one point, he refers to editors as “bosses,” not necessarily there to be liked, who “sometimes treat illustrators as hired help.”
I admit to being someone who bought into the romantic notion of the old-fashioned author-editor culture, only to be somewhat disappointed that, in my limited experience at least, it was nowhere to be found. Yet it must still exist, since I often read about other authors who love their editors and value them highly. Still, it’s disheartening to hear that Jim, with his enviable track record of creating unique, timeless books, is finding more evidence that such relationships are the exception rather than the rule.
I know that publishing is a business and there are things like bottom lines and profit margins. The oftentimes conflicting interests of art vs. commerce have always been part of the picture. But to me it’s common sense: take good care of your authors and artists; make it possible for them to do their best work. Be ever sensitive to the negative consequences of “art by committee.” Then everyone stands to benefit.
Any time something gets too big and impersonal (i.e., corporate publishing), there is a price to be paid. This is true in any field, not just publishing. But we’re talking about art here. We already live in a society that may appreciate art, but for the most part doesn’t support and/or value its artists. This has to begin with those who profess to value art enough to devote their careers to disseminating it. We cannot lose sight that human beings make art and human beings have the power to either foster or destroy it. Yes, I know it’s way more complicated and I oversimplify in my idealistic thinking. But, oh, how money corrupts.
♥ BTW, I was thrilled to hear Jim’s gorgeous picture book, Rain School, was one of three titles selected for the 2011 Spirit of Paper Tigers Book Set. This means that new copies of the book will be donated to schools and libraries all over the world. A well deserved and suitable honor for a widely traveled, multilingual artist with a lifelong interest in different cultures. Be sure to read Marjorie Coughlan’s excellent interview with Jim to learn more about Rain School, and do visit the Paper Tigers Gallery to see more of his art.
Today I have the distinct honor and privilege of welcoming award winning children’s author/illustrator, James Rumford, to alphabet soup! As I mentioned in the profile I posted recently, Jim has published over a dozen picture books; most are works of historical fiction or biography, which display his passion for and unsurpassed knowledge of ancient languages, alphabets and numbers.
A native of Long Beach, California, Jim is a world traveler who has lived in Manoa, on the island of O’ahu, for the last thirty years or so. There he creates gorgeous picture books that are a distinctive blend of art, calligraphy, lyrical text, and innovative book design. Jim also makes beautiful handmade books for his own company, Manoa Press.
In 2008, Jim published Silent Music (Roaring Brook Press), and Chee-lin: A Giraffe’s Journey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). I asked him about these two projects, his love for languages, and all about his general creative process. You will see, by his answers, why he has been called a Renaissance Man.
SILENT MUSIC by James Rumford (Roaring Brook Press, 2008).
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp. Hawaii-based author/illustrator James Rumford has put a human face on war in his 2008 picture book, Silent Music (Roaring Brook Press).
It is by turns a poignant glimpse into the life of an Iraqi boy named Ali, a gorgeous, impeccably designed celebration of the art of Arabic calligraphy, and an interesting study in contrasts that renews our faith in the resiliency of the human spirit.
Twelve years ago, I wrote my first ever author fan letter to James Rumford, whose first picture book, The Cloudmakers (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), totally blew me away.
There was just something magical about this story of a Chinese grandfather and grandson, who taught their Arab captors how to make paper (“clouds”). The watercolors were luminous — skyscapes of billowy wonder. Since Jim just happened to live in Hawai’i, I also asked in my letter for some research assistance pertaining to a biography I was working on.
He wrote back right away with helpful suggestions that set me on my way. That same year, I went to Hawai’i for a couple of booksignings for my third book, The Woman in the Moon. I’ll never forget the moment a stranger walked into the bookstore, a haole man with a beard and ponytail. Someone other than friends and family had come to see me? Wow, this was big!