My Husband, a Picture Book, and the Future President
On Thursday, July 28, my husband, Kevin and I were having an ordinary old-married-couple evening, the kind of evening you might have after being together for nineteen years. We brought in sushi, listened to some throwback Simon & Garfunkel, and coordinated our next day’s plans. After dinner, Kev finished putting up shelves in the basement, and I played with the dog in the yard. Then we sat down on the couch to watch the final two episodes of Stranger Things, the show we’d been binge-watching all week on Netflix (So good!).
Of course, Thursday, July 28 was anything but ordinary.
“This was the night Hillary Clinton was accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party for President of the United States.“
For the first time in our nation’s 240 year history, a woman was going to be a major party nominee for the highest office in the land. So the evening of July 28 was going to be extraordinary.
Only we had no idea just how extraordinary.
We weren’t planning on watching the convention coverage together. We hadn’t watched any convention coverage of either party together. The night before, when President Obama spoke, I watched with the pup. Kevin went to bed.
But Kevin was over anything and everything having to do with the campaign. We were both so discouraged, disheartened, and disgusted by the hateful and ignorant words and rhetoric — some of it aimed directly at us, and Kevin had reached the point where he needed to tune out the noise. I only watched campaign coverage when he wasn’t in the room, and if he came in, I changed the channel.
When I put on MSNBC to watch Hillary Clinton, Kevin said he would try to make it through her speech because he recognized the magnitude of the moment. But he added, “I make no promises.” When Katy Perry walked out on the stage, I knew he would stick around for awhile. She has that kind of power over him. Over me, too.
Then Chelsea Clinton took the stage and started speaking:
“My mom can be about to walk on stage for a debate, or a speech, it just doesn’t matter. She’ll drop everything for a few minutes of blowing kisses and reading Chugga Chugga Choo Choo with her granddaughter. Oh, Chugga Chugga got an applause.”
In our household, Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo has always been our little engine that could.
Of course, Kevin’s first book would be a train book. The man loves trains like Sheldon loves trains. His collection of G Scale model railways took over our Brooklyn loft. Now they’ve turned our attic in Newburgh into a pseudo-man cave.
Every visit to my sister and nephews, Alex and Ethan, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire requires a stop at Hartmann Model Railroad Museum.
As a children’s book editor at Simon & Schuster, the first picture book he worked on with Angela Johnson and Loren Long was I Dream of Trains.
He loved reading the book to pre-Ks and Kindergartens. He would get the kids so riled up; riled up about reading. Thousands and thousands and thousands of kids have pulled the cords on their imaginary horns and shouted,
Well, I can’t quite find the word for it.”
What did the moment mean? Why did it matter? Why am I feeling the way I am right now? Those were the questions he was asking himself. With his index finger and iPad, he tapped out the words.
“Those of you who know me know that I’m not particularly savvy when it comes to social media, but I’ll risk it because having a book I wrote mentioned during such a historic event in such a touching way is…
Well, I can’t quite find the word for it.”
“I can say that it totally represents what I value in books for the very young — and that’s their ability to help parents (and grandparents) create special moments they can share with their children (and grandchildren) over and over again.The very idea that a grandmother uses a book about trains to create that bond with her granddaughter is exhilarating. It makes me feel like I’ve helped create something pure, and it says a lot about how far we’ve come in creating a world with more opportunities than obstacles.”
That was the easy part. Now he had to look inside. Deep inside and way, way back. That’s not something Kevin likes to do very often, and when he does, he rarely shares. I’ve never seen him share publicly.
“As a kid, I couldn’t get through Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Then three summers ago, when we were visiting our friends Marc and Ian for the weekend, I read the graphic novel and loved it. Then Kevin — who’d read the book in college — re-read it as a graphic novel. He loved it, too. “
You see, books and reading matter to us. Books and reading matter to the people in our lives, too. Books have this almost magical ability to bring people together — families, friends, classmates, strangers. They help create indelible, shared memories. They make it so we understand the value and power and beauty of words and stories, and in a world that sometimes feels so dark and full of despair, books remind us of the importance of empathy.
In our bedroom over the bed, hangs a painting. It’s an original piece of art from Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, painted by the talented and kind-souled, Daniel Kirk. It’s the first piece of picture book art Kevin and I acquired together.
Here’s another possibility. Or more like probability.
“I loved that book when I was little,” the now teenage kids of our friends tell us.”
Just like the future President of the United States does with her granddaughter.
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