Back in our preschool years of parenting, my family spent a great deal of time with Walter Wick’s books. To be truthful, we spent a great deal of time with a great many books–almost universally those that created anthropomorphized-machine worlds filled with earnest steam engines, recalcitrant backhoes, or steam shovels of derring-do. Mr. Wick’s I Spy School Days picture-find book was a particular favorite, though. My older son would climb into my lap, dragging the oversized book behind him, sherpa-style, and open always to one glorious track-and-block-filled photo-homage to potential energy: an intricate, Rube-Goldberg-styled “balloon popper.” With w-flavored ‘l’s’ and a slight lisp, he’d start at the top of the page working a chubby finger through a sinuous path of levers, ramps, and pulleys, describing each action, each result, until whole minutes later he would shriek delightedly: “AND THEN, POP!”
Immediately serious, he’d twist around to look me in the eye, and say, “Okay, you do it, mom!” Entire afternoons could be spent in this manner. And were.
That little sherpa towers over me now and articulates with theatric, basso-profundo clarity. There are times when I miss the inseparable-intimacy of those preschool days…but then I am able drink a second cup of coffee uninterrupted or take a shower long enough that I run out of hot water…and I recall that that idyllic sweetness came at a price. Ultimately, I am thankful for the immersive richness of that time and thankful, too, to have moved on…
College is actually fast-approaching for sherpa-lad–which is probably why I jumped at the opportunity to visit Walter Wick’s studio in Hartford, Connecticut, earlier this month, along with a half-dozen other bloggers, at the behest of Scholastic Publishers. Though my sons seem more than willing, I sense that I am the one not quite prepared to put away our childish things–as long as there are blocks and trains and Lego and picture books lying underfoot, they are still here with me where I can keep them safe–everyone tranquil, nobody aging or changing…
The day of my visit, the first thing that I learn about Walter Wick is that his work studio was once a firehouse. I can’t help wishing (not for the last time) that I’d figured out a way to bring my boys with me as I tour the space–a decade ago when our family was house-hunting, the two items on the boys’ mutual “must-have” list were an artist’s studio and a bedroom fire pole. They’re still waiting on both…
The main workspace on the second floor of the firehouse is open and sunny, with near-floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides of the room. As the visiting bloggers traverse the periphery, snapping photos of the sets for the next book in the Can You See What I See? series (a fairy tale romance between a time-traveling robot and a princess with moxie), Walter explains that from idea to inception, each book takes about a year to complete–so that production for one title overlaps with promotion for the book most-recently completed.
During lunch and throughout the rest of our day, Walter patiently answers questions from our group as he leads us around the building. Yes, he tends to work with archetypes children find accessible: trains and pirates, robots and princesses. The books are specifically designed to work on a number of levels, however, from simple reader to picture-find adventure that reinforces vocabulary and listening skills to (in the case of Toyland Express) sweet story of old toys that find a second life among new children–all depending on the needs of the reader.
When I come home that night, I show the boys my copy of Can You See What I see? Toyland Express.
“Look!” I gush, “The author signed it! And that little yellow bead boy is hidden somewhere on every page. His name is Seymour. And the publisher even sent me home with ‘Toyland Express’ train cookies for the family…”
“Wow!” my older son laughs, leafing through Toyland Express. “This almost makes me wish I was ten years younger again. When I was going through my train-obsession thing I would have loved this book!”
When he gets to the final spread in the book, a scene full of block towers, tinker toy bridges, and rambling train-filled track reminiscent of our old friend, the “balloon popper” page, his eyes widen. Tapping the book with tapered fingers, he tells me, rapid-fire: “You know, Mom: this guy really understands what gets little kids excited!”
“I may have to quote you on that,” I agree.
Want to win a free copy of Can You See What I See? Toyland Express? Dig out your blocks, Lego, trains, and trucks and create your own “toyland” world (click around on Walter Wick’s site for inspiration). Take a picture and upload it to GeekMom’s flickr group anytime before Monday, December 5. One lucky winner will be chosen by a guest judging panel of teens and tweens to receive a copy of the book!
Note: This blogger received a signed copy of Can You See What I See? Toyland Express free for review.