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The Writer as Reader: the Colors of the World

In almost all my fiction, the heroine is a reader. Mostly, I think, because I don’t know how to imagine a non-reading consciousness…

I mean, can you imagine yourself illiterate? I can’t. It feels as though I’ve always made my way through the world by peering at it through the lens of other people’s written perceptions — even before I could read, in the books I memorized and pretended to read aloud, like some very early favorite Little Golden Books, Circus Time (text by Marian Conger, ill. by Tibor Gergely) and The Color Kittens (text by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. byAlice and Martin Provensen).

In the Circus Time Molly (Molly!) wakes up early, too excited to sleep, on the day her Daddy is going to take her to the circus, and watches the sky outside her window change from gray to yellow to pink to blue (or pink to yellow?).

A yellow sky? I’d never seen a yellow sky. But later, after I had seen sunrises (and even now, when I wake up in the very early morning to write in my study that’s painted in early morning colors) I remember the thrill of encountering that changing sky in a book. (Interestingly, when I checked the title via Google, I found another fan who remembered those colors — click here and then scroll down to Circus Time, to read what she says, because she remembers something I’d forgotten: that, brilliantly, as Molly and her Daddy make their way home at sunset, the book’s sky does a reverse color change).

More colors here — perhaps from before I knew how to “read” about the color of the emotions.

The Color Kittens, by the author of Goodnight Moon, tells how colors are mixed (when two “pouncy” kittens decide they need green and learn how to make every other color as well) but it was my earliest visionary headtrip to a land of tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

It’s  still in print and even has its own Wikipedia stub page. And so I bought it last year for my Berliner grandniece Maxine, to share the discovery with her (overwhelming to me at about her age) that shadows are purple, which I’d never seen before the kittens, Brush and Hush, showed it to me.

Can you remember how your earliest books helped you dream, see, imagine?

And can you imagine who you’d be without them?

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