You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You, Very Short Tall Tales to Read Together, besides being a very long title, is the latest in the series of “You Read To Me” books written by American Children’s Poet Laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman (published by, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) and illustrated/designed by yours truly. The designer at Little Brown was Saho Fuji, and edited by Megan Tingley.
This is the sixth book in this award winning series, designed to be read by a parent and child, or two kids, or any two people. Each “voice” is printed in a different color, and placed side by side so it’s easy to read one part and then another. There are also a few parts, like the finish refrain, “You’ll read to me, and I’ll read to you!” that are in a third color meaning both readers read at once. Below is the original art for the jacket. (Soon: new blog with more about the jacket art.) It depicts Stormalong, the giant mythical sailor.
I did a bit of research for Stormalong, as well as most of the other characters in this book – something I have not done so far in this series. Why? Because for the first time for this series, in mining the American lexicon of familiar book characters, we’ve delved into the curious world of “Tall Tales”. America’s version of what most countries or civilizations call legends. But these Tall Tales depict specific historical eras, or even very specific, ‘real’ people. I say real in quotes because there is not documentation for all of them, but some, like the tale of Casey Jones, seems to be based on an actual train driver, and his famous death based on an actual train crash in 1901.
If you look at the bottom of the cover, you’ll see lurking below the ship a giant octopus. This is the most common depiction of the mythical creature referred to as the Kraken. These were often mentioned as the typical sea monster, along with the more familiar ‘serpent’ style sea monster, for example, the Loch Ness Monster.
The outfits of the sailors are based on real US sailors of the time, the ship is actually based on a famous Irish ship of about the same period – a nod to my present home. (More on this in future blog)
The tattoos on Stormalong are based on real period tattoos. They were a new thing back then for white men. And almost exclusively white sailors. A habit they came across first sailing in the south Pacific. One of the earliest tattoos they would get you can see on Stormalong’s knuckles. It says:” Hold Fast”. Something they hoped might remind them to hold fast, or firmly, to the ropes (rigging) during rough stormy weather. The life of a sailor could depend on his care and strength in holding on at the right moments.
Many a working deck hand would be swept overbaord. This usually meant certain death, for a couple of reasons. One: the water was often cold enough to kill you in a short time. Two: the ship could not turn around very quickly, and the unfortunate soul would probably be dead from cold if not already drowned. Surprisingly, it was common for sailors to be unable to swim. It was thought to be preferable to sink straight away and die quickly rather than survive and suffer for a long time. And it would be too dangerous to turn and go back anyway if the sea were rough or a storm were blowing.
So the lesson is: HOLD FAST! (more on this and other tattoos in a future blog.)