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The View from Robin’s Rocking Chair

Robin Smith, my wife, co-founded Calling Caldecott, and when she died last year, I knew that each fall would have me wondering which current picture books Robin would love most. The way I decide is to think of Robin’s rocking chair, painted in vivid reds and yellows and greens by Alabama outsider artist Chris Clark and Robin’s second graders. As stated here last year in the first annual Calling Caldecott announcement of the Robin Smith Picture Book Prize (for The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse), “We can imagine her in her classroom rocking chair, her students sitting in front of her on the rug, as she launches into the book.” Robin loved picture books with lively texts complementing the visual experience. She loved the great read-aloud, and she always read with a gleam in her eyes, a big enthusiastic smile, and a dramatic voice. So, I’ve been thinking about which 2018 picture books Robin would have most wanted to read from her chair.

Of the books I’ve seen so far, three jump out at me as ones Robin would love. Sophie Blackall’s Hello Lighthouse is a read-aloud treat. Though Blackall’s lighthouse is based on one in Newfoundland, Robin would have connected it to her love of Maine and Little Cranberry Island, which we visited each summer. The portrait orientation of the book and the white lighthouse with the red door, surrounded by various shades of blue sky and ocean, would have first attracted Robin’s eye. The ink-and-watercolor illustrations are standouts, featuring the lighthouse design itself and the human story within.

Robin’s Caldecott year (2010) had A Sick Day for Amos McGee as its winner, and it’s a particular sadness that Robin couldn’t share in my Caldecott experience last year and our winner, Matthew Cordell’s Wolf in the Snow. And such a shame that Robin can’t see Sergio Ruzzier’s Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories, dedicated to her. She so loved and championed Ruzzier’s work, and his latest is full of all the skill, humor, and charm that Robin appreciated.

And Robin would have been drawn to Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin. She would have loved illustrator Rafael López’s cityscapes and classroom scenes. As a teacher, Robin was a master of creating community in the classroom, using Vivian Gussin Paley’s book You Can’t Say You Can’t Play as her guide; kids in her class were not allowed to exclude others from their play. It’s a theme central to Woodson’s book. Another reason Robin would have been drawn to the book is that our own two children felt like outsiders when kids at school talked of vacations in Europe or on Caribbean islands, when they spent theirs at home in their neighborhood, like Angelina and her sister. So, Robin would have related to themes in the text, but she would have seen this as a Caldecott contender for its beautiful, child-friendly art, supported and complemented by that strong text.

Well, Robin isn’t here, but her rocking chair is. Only now I have given it to Emmie Stuart, a young and wonderful friend and librarian here in Nashville (and a fellow Calling Caldecott guest blogger), who has been much inspired by Robin. (Pictured below is the chair where it lives now, in Emmie’s library.) The chair didn’t need to be a relic sitting in my living room. It needed to be in a school library, surrounded by children. And now I can picture Emmie sitting in that chair just like Robin — a gleam in her eyes, a big smile on her face, and a spirited voice — launching into a favorite picture book and continuing our common work in sharing the best of books with children.

About Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Comments

  1. Monica Edinger says:

    Thank you, Dean. This is lovely. I can just imagine Robin reading these books to her second graders.

  2. Judy Weymouth says:

    I find your writing today a lovely tribute to your late wife and also so much about the process of grieving. My dad died more than 30 years ago and there are times when I long to share something in the present with him. I couldn’t agree with you more that Robin would have loved the three books you selected. Like her, I, too, consider time spent in Maine each summer a necessity. . . . and I come all the way from Arizona to make that happen! I’m hoping Hello Lighthouse is loved by children all over the country. I’m sure Robin’s spirit is around every time Emmie sits down in the rocking chair and shares books with children. Your wife lives on in all those who knew and loved her.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts here today.

  3. Over the time I’ve been following Calling Caldecott, I do well remember Robin had a special place in her heart for the work of Sophie Blackall and Sergio Ruzzier and know well she would have waxed lyrical on “Hello Lighthouse” and “Fox and Chick” and can even remember some of the wonderful reviews she wrote on their books in the books. I also have no doubt she would have loved the great Woodson-Lopez collaboration. Very moving and beautiful post, and love that rocking chair transference to Ms. Stuart another exceedingly talented and passionate writer and teacher.

  4. ***their books in the books***** (should have read ‘their books in the series.” Ugh.

  5. Heidi Lee Smith Waddell says:

    I have only recently discovered the joys of reading for pleasure. As Robin’s older sister, one year ahead in school, I learned to read by recognition and not by sounding the letters out to bring a word to life. Robin learned to read phonetically and had the keys to unlock any story she came across. This was, by far, the best gift she received as a student, in my opinion. The fact that her life’s work was sharing this gift with others is something I will always hold close to my heart. Rock on in her chair, reading aloud to the children of today, the leaders of tomorrow. Rock n Read!!

  6. This made me cry. What a loving tribute and what a testament to Robin’s deep love of literature and her resounding effect on so many lives ( and I love Sophie’s book, too!)

  7. I loved our time together on Geisel and the birds on our heads. Thanks for this article.

  8. Sylvia Vardell says:

    So beautiful, Dean. Thanks for your courage in sharing this. What a legacy!

  9. Sophie Blackall says:

    Thank you, Dean, this means the world. And I’m very happy to think Robin’ chair is again surrounded by children eager to hear a story. Children who may occasionally gather so close, they sit on their librarian’s feet.

  10. Reading to children in Robin’s rocking chair is a humbling, sacred, and joyful experience. Robin’s deep and sincere love for children, picture books, and her family was evident in every moment of her life. Several times throughout the day I think of Robin and the many many lives (including mine) that she not only touched, but CHANGED. In the words of Miss Alice Rumphius, each and every day Robin did something to “make the world a more beautiful place.”

  11. So so lovely, Dean. Feel like Robin was reading this over my shoulder. Jeez, I miss her. Thanks for bringing her to visit me today. Sending you so much love.

  12. Mary Leyden Johnson says:

    Even though none of our three girls were blessed to have Robin as a teacher, she was admired by our family. I loved her passion for both books and knitting and was fascinated how second graders were able to knit. Our first grandchild was born two weeks ago, and I will buy him one of the books dedicated to Robin. When he is older I will tell him about Robin. Hope you are well.

  13. This is such a beautiful post, Dean. I found myself nodding as I read it and imagined Robin championing the books you highlight with all the passion, good humor, and delight she brought to our Caldecott committee. And, oh how it warms my heart to know that her rocking chair is now in Emmie’s library! Thanks for sharing that. Wishing you and your family peace.

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