My latest book, HALLEY,
My three youngest grandchildren are the most satisfying audience in the world to read to! They will sit and listen for as long as my voice holds out. So far, my record is 12 picture books/easy readers at a sitting! Since the boys range from two up to five, that is even more amazing. But some stories they want to hear again and again. I may keep this a secret from their grandfather, who has a grudge against a certain armadillo who is bulldozing our yard, but one of their very favorites is MERRY CHRISTMAS OLD ARMADILLO written by Larry Dane Brimner and illustrated by Dominic Catalano.
Larry’s story opens with Old Armadillo all alone in his casita above a tiny village. I only get through the first sentence when Isaac, the five-year-old asks, “Why is he alone?”
“Maybe he has no family,” I say, and read on.
Samuel, the three-year-old tenses up when Old Armadillo stands at his gate and listens for sounds. “Why is he crying?” he asks on the next page when Old Armadillo sheds a tear.
Jacob, the baby, wiggles in my lap and pats the animals who are putting up decorations. “Woof-woof!” he says, obviously unsure about what sounds a roadrunner, a peccary or a coyote might make.
“Why is the armadillo sleeping?” Isaac asks as the animals keep gathering outside.
“Because he’s old,” I answer.
“Like Granddaddy?” he asked, pointing to Benjamin, who is asleep in a nearby easy chair..
“Yes,” I say.
My grandsons laugh as the animals keep knocking on Old Armadillo’s door, and then peeking through his window.
The story never fails to bring sighs of satisfaction all around every time it wraps up with a happy ending. Even young children respond to a story of friendship and love. And I’m sure it’s not just my grandchildren who love it–it has been in print for 20 years now!
I asked Larry how such a beloved story came about. “Too often,” he said, “our elderly friends and family members are left on their own, forgotten during the holidays. As a letter writing assignment I used to have my high school students ‘adopt’ an elderly person in the residential facility within walking distance of the school. We did this in the fall and wrapped it up with a visit to the facility around the holidays when we’d have a cupcake and punch party. Many of the elders appreciated hearing from and visiting with the young people. And what I noticed is that many of my students kept up contact long after the assignment was over. Quite a few went into health care after school.”
Larry went on to say that Old Armadillo was also inspired by the great relationship he had with his grandfather, who traveled often. “We kept up that correspondence no matter where he was. It was fun to remember him on his birthday and other important days.”
As Ernest Hemingway said, what a writer knows about his characters makes a difference even when the facts don’t actually appear in the story. Amazingly, that also seems to apply to a story for youngsters.
Good work, Larry!