This morning I listened to an interview with author/illustrator Lee Edward Fodi in which he mentioned that his interest in writing and illustrating books goes back to when he first picked up a crayon. He also said that, for him, the visual images always came first. I was thinking that, although I loved to draw as a kid, the written story always came before the visual image for me. Then I remembered the pictures I drew for my grandma.
For most of my childhood, my grandma lived several hundred miles away, and I only saw her a couple times a year. We used to write letters back and forth, and for a brief period, we also did something special. I would send my grandma a drawing, and she would send me back a story to go with the drawing. The story she created from the picture would be a total surprise, and I always waited for it with great anticipation. (I still have at least two of those drawings and their accompanying stories –perhaps I’ll post one here when I find it.)
My grandma always encouraged my interest in being a writer, but I’d forgotten how much she modelled storytelling herself and inspired creativity by her approach to life and the things she had around her. There was always a mood of fun around my grandmother. She had a big encompassing laugh, sang lively French songs, made paper dolls with us, played cards, and always had a lazy-Susan tray of Bugles, Cheezies, chips and dip at the ready. She loved Hawaii, dressed in a bright floral muu muu at home, played Hawaiian music on her stereo, called her grandchildren by Hawaiianified names, and always had little shells and tiny toys hidden in her flower pots. And, there was the story-telling shell.
My brothers, sister and I loved to curl up next to my grandma while she held the storytelling shell on her lap (like a mother-of-pearl bowl), traced lines and patterns with her finger, and told stories about children who sailed the sea and had encounters with pirates. It wasn’t so much the content of the stories that made the stories great, it was the personality, warmth and love with which my grandma told them.
So, some stories begin with pictures, some with words, and if your’e lucky, some begin with a storytelling shell.