of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books..
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Lynne Rae Perkins
Created existences are a challenge: is the fictional world so specific that the reader is closed out? So general that there's nothing new to be found? Are the characters so predictable that nothing they do surprises? Or maybe so quirky that nothing they do surprises? Does it seem like they could have had any other lives than the author wrote for them, and do they exist when they step outside the narrative?
Lynne Rae Perkins is an expert at balancing between those extremes; add to this talent the fact that she's been able to do so in picture books as well as in longer narrative; add further the fact that she's been able to employ both art and narrative in service of that balance. Whether describing a girl's discovery of the joys of gardening (Home Lovely), a girl's discovery of the underappreciated joys of her own family (Clouds for Dinner), or a girl's discovery of life beyond the end of a supposedly lifelong friendship (All Alone in the Universe), her worlds are individual yet palpable, with people who could walk right into the real world without any adjustment.
Her illustrations speak volumes about those worlds, too. Home Lovely's Tiffany, straw-blonde down to her eyebrows with a glorious crop of freckles, is bleached out further by the light from the television screen as she sits amid chaotically strewn Barbie garments--this girl is absolutely ripe for a garden. As she asks her mother about transplanting the found seedlings, she interpolates herself between her mother and the sinkful of dishes, hanging around her waist and tipping her head back until her hair flirts with the soapsuds, in an action recognizable from any kitchen that's ever held a kid. Tiffany's garden in bloom is Perkin's only full-bleed and double-spread illustration, and she peers out amid a jungle of vines bedecked with flowers and colorfully staked with Tiffany's own socks. One of the freshest things about All Alone in the Universe is Perkins' retention of illustration in a novel for readers of an age usually no longer favored with it. The effect is contemporary and Lynda Barry-esque without being mannered; with deceptively casual thumbnail sketches (Perkins is a gifted practitioner of stipple and hatch, and there's a woven look to her images that can range from homespun to finely tailored) coloring in the corners of narrator Debbie's thoughts, as if she doodles while contemplating.
Pictures will only get you so far, however, and Perkins matches them with telling textual depictions notable for what they avoid as much as what they accomplish. The friendly mailman Bob, who brings Tiffany plants, stays a friend rather than becoming, as he might have done in a lesser book, a romance for Tiffany's mother; nor is the book interested in making sociological commentary about life in an isolated mobile home where there's not enough money for a baby sitter, since "That's just how it was." In All Alone in the Universe, Debbie never does become friends with Marie Prybczka down the street; the missed possibility is one of the puzzles Debbie struggles with, in her metaphor-tumbling-over-metaphor style ("I felt off-balance, as if someone kept borrowing my right foot for a few minutes. As if someone were moving into my house while I still lived there") that both evocatively conveys her feelings and suggests her deep discomfort with the trail-blazing she's doing--any parallel she can find reduces the frightening unfamiliarity.
Some authors provide one kind of reward, some another. With Perkins it's the offhand verisimilitude of artistic moments in text and image that catch readers, hooking them on for the ride to wherever Perkins wants to take them. We're looking forward to the next trip.
--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor
Books by Lynne Rae Perkins
This page was last updated on February 1, 2000.