Thursday, February 25, 2010

Remy Charlip

A few years ago - 2001 to be exact - my sister and I were reminiscing about our favorite book from childhood: Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip (1st image). The title refers to the illustration (4th image) of 2 octopuses who got married and walked down the aisle arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm. The subtitle, "A Collection of Connections, Endless Tales, Reiterations, and Other Echolalia," describes the wonderful drawings and writings that intrigued us for years. "Here is someone who transforms, embroiders and enchants ordinary experiences into magical excursions, encouraging children to imagine and improvise for themselves. His works abound in innovative narratives, wonderful word games, simple reading exercises with an appeal directly to children. There is no superfluous detail and lots of riddles, puns, jokes, chants, word-games and illustrations -- tempera, watercolors, cartoons and collages, silhouettes and simple line drawings,"praises Edith Cohen, a volunteer in the Children's Literature Center at the Library of Congress. I decided to refresh our memories, and ordered a copy of the book for each of us - and then went a step further. I found what I hoped was a recent address on the web and sent Mr. Charlip a fan letter, along with the 2 books, a return envelope, and a request that he autograph them. In my letter I wrote, "I, too, am an author, but of the morbid sort, so a little whimsy is good for me!" His kind response included the note above (3rd image), which I read with delight!

Charlip is a creative guy. Not only has he written and/or illustrated 29 children's books, he was a founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (3rd image) and the Paper Bag Players. It was his theater family who helped him struggle back from a stroke in 2005 and, as one of them says, "It became obvious that despite the communication challenge, Remy the Artist is as strong and compelling as ever." As a choreographer, Charlip has used drawings to inspire the members of dance troupes to help create "air mail dances." He has also designed sets and costumes, directed plays, and taught in the Children's Theater and Literature Department at Sarah Lawrence College. His theater work has been honored by the Village Voice and his books have won awards fron the New York Times. Charlip reveals, "I love sequence - how one thing follows another. That's why I love picture books. When you're reading to a child, he can't wait to get to the next page. 'Turn the page, turn the page!' That's because each new page is a door to another different world." As San Francisco journalist Rachel Howard put it, he's divided his talents between children's books and dance - two worlds that meet in the lines of his illustrations, which seem to dance off the page.

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