“Any life will provide the materials for writing, if it is attended to.” Wallace Stegner
the Attending Eye
The name Charlotte Zolotow is synonymous with excellence in children’s literature. Trained by Ursula Nordstrom, she became a nurturing editor of outstanding and often groundbreaking books for young people. She is also the author of a long list of picture books including classics like MR. RABBIT AND THE LOVELY PRESENT, WILLIAM’S DOLL, and DO YOU KNOW WHAT I’LL DO.
Like Wallace Stegner, Charlotte Zolotow knows the riches to be discovered by attending to one’s daily life. This is readily apparent in her writing, and is frequently her theme including ONE STEP, TWO and PETER AND THE PIGEONS. These two books written 38 years apart bring us directly into the child’s world. They also offer the picture book writer a reminder of the beauty to be found in the familiar that we so easily overlook in the search for “great ideas”.
In ONE STEP, TWO a toddler and her mother go for a walk. While the mother expects the walk to be a typical experience, her daughter is busy attending. The daughter’s essence is intimacy and curiosity about her daily life. She attends to her daily life, and directs both her mother’s and our attention to the riches in front of us.
Peter knows pigeons. He knows their sounds and touch. And, as a result, he loves them. Pigeons are a part of his daily life. His supportive father takes him to the zoo to encounter other animals. Zolotow’s gentle subtext is that the father hopes his son will become interested in more exotic animals. But it’s not to be as Peter models what we writers are forever needing to learn again. Enjoy, honor and write what you know as small, daily, and matter of fact as it may be.
“That’s why,” Peter said. “I know their sounds and even the feel of their feathers. If I knew the others better, maybe I’d choose them. But right now, it’s pigeons I like best.”
Write what you know. And, continue to explore new worlds of knowing.
ONE STEP, TWO. Illus. by Cindy Wheeler. Lothrop, 1981.
ONE STEP, TWO. Illus. by Roger Duvoisin. Lothrop, 1955. (original edition)
PETER AND THE PIGEONS. Illus. by Martine Gourbault. Greenwillow, 1993.