Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Erika Almskaar
English 225
Explorations Project
Spring 2010

The Report

Here is Erika's report on children's author Esphyr Slobodkina:

Works Cited

Kraskin, Sandra, and Esphyr Slobodkina. Rediscovering Slobodkina: a Pioneer of American Abstraction. Manchester, Vt.: Hudson Hills, 2009. Print.

Slobodkina, Esphyr. Jack and Jim,. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1961. Print.

Slobodkina Foundation Home. Web. 20 May 2010.

The Reflective Piece

My explorations project began during the class visit to the Bellingham Children’s Library. I asked the librarian on staff to help me locate a certain book, and we were unsuccessful. Little did I know, the search for and reuniting with the book Jack and Jim, by Esphyr Slobodkina, would become a mission worth reporting to the class.

My hunt for this book took me from the public library, to the WWU library, to local bookstores, to an elementary school library, to the internet. I suppose I could have skipped straight to the internet, but I remember feeling like I need to have that book in my hands as soon as I could. When I finally did get my copy, I became overwhelmed with that long lost feeling, and after that subsided, I was left wondering how it had happened.

In my report I wanted to introduce Slobodkina to the class, in addition to relating my experience in finding the book. By the end of it, I still felt I had not answered my question of how this book had impacted me. I was surprised at the encouraging response from the class- though most had not heard of Slobodkina, they certainly could relate to how much the book meant to me. Most wrote back that they understood having such a strong connection with a book. Helen commented, “It would be interesting to know whether that has more to do with what particular stage of life or focus we are in at that time or if it is more of a direct reflection on the strength and merits of that specific book.” It is an interesting question that she presents, and I think that it is a combination of both.

I may have been the target audience for this book- a sister, a sharer, an animal lover. The plot line fit my lifestyle and attitudes, and the simplistic collage style illustration appeals to my Scandinavian sense of modest, functional design. Some may see the collage style as a bare-bones, empty art for a children’s picture book, but it perfectly suited my taste and values. My boyfriend jokes that the boys in the book exhibit blatant homoeroticism- he would see that- while I see it as a lovely depiction of a close bond among two young brothers. I am a little sister, we are two years apart, and the theme in the book of sharing both fun and responsibility was of course pertinent to us. I also had the blessing of involved parents that surrounded my sister and I with good books.

Surely my mother knew what she was doing picking that book out. I credit that woman for teaching me a sympathetic approach to relationships and life. This circles back to the Slobodkina quote I begin my presentation with:

“I believe that the formative years of childhood are relatively brief but very important segments in a person’s life. The parents, the teachers, the librarians, and, yes, the writers and illustrators of children’s books must take their responsibility most seriously, for the images, the verbal patterns, and the behavior they present to children in these lighthearted confections are likely to influence them for the rest of their lives. These aesthetic impressions, just like the moral teachings of early childhood, remain indelible. They will, most likely, be the bedrock upon which (or in opposition to which) a person’s spiritual existence, consciously or unconsciously, will be based.”

I think that my report on Slobodkina gave classmates an example of how a ‘good book’ stays with a child forever. Slobodkina wrote a book to teach a lesson of sharing, a lesson that she knew to be important. She further demonstrated her point with her illustrations, providing children with rich yet austere visuals. To me this means that we can have and be satisfied with what we need without being extravagant. Yes, my mother chose this book to instill in us a value of her own, but she did it right and it worked. She chose carefully, and gave us a book that was a pleasure to read and see and contained a meaningful message.

My exploration into Esphyr Slobodkina as a person, artist and teacher has shown me what a good book can be, what a good book can do for a child, and how a good book can be chosen. I still think back to her use of the word ‘confections’ in reference to children’s books. As adults, we need to feed the bellies of our children with the best food available, and feed their minds with the best books. The book Jack and Jim was an excellent choice for my childhood. It was written for a child like me, who would appreciate and absorb the heart of the book, and hold it in her own heart for years to come.

Copyright 2010
Erika Almskaar

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA