Go! Go! Maria!

“(A) dynamic combination of Harris’s text and Emberley’s sweepingly energetic cartoon-style art…(The one of Maria wearing white jockey shorts as a hat is priceless)… (A)s delightful as it’s predecessor. It’s fun and fact in a lively package.” – Booklist

“Maria is a wonderful book to explain toddler behavior to older siblings and babysitters…Illustrated with Emberley’s cheerful cartoons…” – School Library Journal

“(A) lively look at one-year-old behavior and development…straightforward explanations are made even more accessible by Emberley’s lighthearted cartoons.” – The Horn Book

The second book in a series is always easier than the first because I am not reinventing my art style. This constant modifying of technique I can blame squarely on my father who set the example. It isn’t a bad way to illustrate books. In fact people are often impressed by your versatility and adaptability. It just isn’t a very efficient way to get more than say…one book finished per year.

The art was not too difficult but provided the usual stubborn images that refused to come quietly. The image of Maria crying at the sandbox for instance was very hard for some reason. The two children had to be a precise age in relation to each other and at the moment of the year that the book encompassed. I did endless sketches, and still wasn’t happy in the end. So it goes.

The jacket was also a struggle. What you think will be simple sometimes, just isn’t. After just a few attempts, I did what I thought was a simple, amusing image of Maria happily running off in the course of some one-year-old game or other. Toys scattered about. A blankie clutched tightly. Everyone loved it. Loved Maria. Very cute they all said. But… there was a problem. And the problem was, she was running in the wrong direction. What? She was running to the left. Exiting stage left. And people do not like things exiting to the left.

I don’t know if it’s a political thing, but no one, absolutely no one, was going to let me have Maria run to the left. She must run to the right, they said, “into the book”, “towards the story”. My argument was if Maria were a contrary kid, as many are at this age, she would run away, not towards something. Thus, run left. It’s funnier than running towards something anyway, I think. “I’m running away! Ha, ha!  Hee, hee!

Look at me!  Catch me!” Away. Left. Get it?

I lost the argument.

The jacket for the previous book in this series, Hello Benny!, was another lost argument. I had another killer image that anyone in their right mind would have been thrilled with. Simple. A to-die-for cute baby getting his bath sitting up in a small bowl partly filled with water. Half turning with a relaxed, adorable grin as if gazing back lovingly at his mum as she snaps a quick photo for the grandparents.

Genius! Cleverness coming out of my ears. It tied the whole family together, worked in the characteristic bonding/ bath time scene that we were unable to include inside the book. A clap on the back, a few “well done’s” and I’d be off for a long ride in the afternoon sun.

Not so fast. “Where is the parent?”, they said. “We can’t see the parent”. ” No. You can’t leave a baby for even a second in a bath. Even a tiny one like this.”

But…

“Perhaps if we could see some hands holding the baby…?”

But the parents presence is implied, surely. At whom does the child gaze if not at another in immediate proximity? And a parent would not fit on the jacket without making the child too small, the layout too busy, with less focus on the star of the book. Let alone including two huge disembodied hands.

“No. Too dangerous.”

But who would infer that this image sanctions dropping your baby in a tub of water then popping out to go shopping for an hour?

“No. Too risky”.

So no baby bath picture. Of course, in the end, they were right. You can’t tell who will pick up your book, how they will interpret it, and what they may do as a result. It’s a responsibility that cannot be born by an American company, particularly in our litigious society. But it serves to illustrate how art must bow to commerce, when commerce is paying the bills. And how commerce must often bow to the lowest common denominator or farthest fringe element. And it demonstrates the implied reality of non-fiction books and the distinct decision-making and concerns that go into creating non-fiction.

I like the eventual images that were chosen for both book jackets by the way. So it is not impossible to make everybody happy.

It’s just not simple.