Every Friday, I invite an author, illustrator, or educator to chat with me about books, writing, reading, school visits, and random topic pops that pop into my head. Matthea Harvey and Cecil the Pet Glacier are this week's superstars. I wrote the words in red, and Matthea wrote the words in black. Thank you, Matthea!
Cecil the Pet Glacier tells the story of a girl called Ruby Small who desperately wants to be normal. Mr. and Mrs. Small are a topiary gardener and a tiara designer and they like to do embarrassing things like tango in the front yard, which Ruby gets teased about at school. On the plane to Norway, Ruby mentions that she’d like to get a normal pet—a cat or a dog. But on their vacation, they go to see a large glacier calving, and one of the glacier calves, Cecil, starts following Ruby around. Ruby and her three identical dolls (the three Jennifers) are not pleased, but as the story progresses, they start to see Cecil differently.
Giselle Potter’s illustrations are perfect. I love her unique style and she was perfect for this book, because she’d had a similar experience to Ruby as a child, which she portrayed in her wonderful book “The Year I Didn’t Go to School” (when she was seven her parents took her to Italy to be part of a their traveling family theater company, “The Mystic Paper Beasts”). I think her understanding of being a child with strange parents is really visible in the Ruby’s facial expressions and her posture. Also, Giselle drew Cecil (the glacier) in such a way that he seems very alive and full of personality even though he has no face. For our book party, Giselle and her two daughters made piper-cleaner tiaras for everyone and her husband carved two Cecils out of ice!
I wrote Cecil the Pet Glacier without knowing anything about writing children’s books. It took me ten years to get it published. The story was much too long at first—crammed with visual details, which my poems often are—and I was very lucky to have the glorious Anne Schwartz as my editor. I learned that picture books are a fifty-fifty tango with the illustrator.
I teach poetry at Sarah Lawrence College to undergraduates and graduate students. I encourage them to experiment as much as possible, making poems out of found text, writing comic poems, inventing new forms, then writing in them. I love getting to know my students’ work and then recommending poets they haven’t read yet but are kindred spirits. I think a lot of people are scared of poetry and if everyone had their own personal poetry curator who could give them the right book, they would all fall in love with poetry.
Reading is what I spend most of my time doing. I read everything—poetry, fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, graphic novels…Recent favorites are Schroder, Anne Carson’s Antigonick, Jessica Francis Kane’s This Close, The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry and The Reenactments by Nick Flynn.
Picture books are incredibly important because they’re the way children fall in love with reading. And picture books aren’t only for children. My previous children’s book, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel, is a little fable about the battle between realism and the imagination and I’d say it could be read by ages eight all the way up to 100. The hero is a little general who is the head of the Realist army, but because he’s been ignoring the life of the imagination, a giant snowflake starts following him around. By the end of the book he has an imaginary pet lemming called Snowflake and the Realists and the Dreamers are no longer separate camps. My fourth book of poems If the Tabloids are True, What are You? (which is coming out next year) is a picture book of sorts—there are poems titled with photographs and others illustrated with mertool (mermaid + tool) silhouettes.
Three of my favorite children’s books are Fantastic Toys by Monika Beisner, The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton and Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my cat, Wednesday. She is very well, thank you, despite being 18 years old. She has three sets of “executive stairs” to get her up to the radiator, the bed and the couch, and her favorite activity is burrowing her way under a blanket she’s had since kittenhood. Essentially, she usually looks like a little breathing plaid lump, though in real life she’s an all-black cat. And yes, she is very proud that Cecil the Pet Glacier is dedicated to her.
Matthea Harvey is the author of several books of poetry, including Modern Life, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. Other books include a storybook called The Little General and the Giant Snowflake and an illustrated erasure, Of Lamb. Matthea teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn.
I am giving away a copy of Cecil the Pet Glacier.
Rules for the Giveaway
1. It will run from 4/5 to 11:59 P.M. on 4/7.
2. You must be at least 13.
3. Please pay it forward.
Please borrow Cecil the Pet Glacier from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.