Wednesday, January 10

Remy Charlip

This is Remy.
He was born on this day in 1929. I met him when I was a boy, sometime around when he would have been 40 years old, around the age he was in this picture.

I don't fully remember the circumstances, the time or place, it's all part of the dreaminess of childhood. It was a large room, filled with kids, and this free-spirited man who must have come across like a whirlwind. Could it have been at the L.A. County Museum of Fine Art? Perhaps. The space had the large, open feeling of an empty gallery, but more finished and refined than a dance studio or performance space. There was music and singing and dancing, all of it very unconventional. Imaginary Dances, I believe he called them. We were kids, we didn't care what they were called, we just did our little interpretive wriggling and posturing and had a lot of fun.

He wrote and illustrated children's books as well. One of my favorites was a hodge podge collection of illustrated jokes, poems, puns, songs and other playful amalgamations of word and image. It was called Arm in Arm and is, occasionally, still available.

Another book of his that was a favorite is the kind of book that has seeped deeply into the subconscious of many people I have met. Strangely, while many are familiar with the book -- and the sort of word game it engenders between budding wordsmiths and their parents -- few can name it's author. Perhaps you are familiar with Fortunately.

Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.

Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute....

Once I got the rhythm of this in my head as a child I could never let it go. For the rest of my days, whenever I heard someone make a declarative statement beginning with either the word fortunately or unfortunately I would find myself (often in my own head, for my own amusement) countering with a humorous rejoinder. And I have heard the call and response of parent and child making up their own fortunately/unfortunately dialog so I know I'm not the only one.

He wrote and illustrated many other books. The circular playfulness of I Love You. The silhouetted gothic of Mother, Mother, I Feel Sick; Send for the Doctor, Quick, Quick, Quick. The gentle care in illustrating the lesson of Margaret Wise Brown's The Dead Bird. The anonymous beasty of Four Fur Feet. They endure because they reach into a vast well of understatement that promotes and celebrates the power and beauty of a child-like imagination. They bare the unmistakable mark of a poet choreographer whose fondness for sharing his exuberance with children was evident in all he did.

Remy suffered a stroke a few years back and has been slowly on the mend. Before the stroke he finished work on a children's book called A Perfect Day to be released in May of this year by HarperCollins. The summary of the book:

A parent and child spend a perfect day together, from sunrise to nightfall.

Though I'm sure it's an accurate summation, somehow I doubt it's as simple as all that.

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