Thursday, May 27, 2021

Memorial: Lois Ehlert and Eric Carle

How crazy is it that we are putting together memorial tables for not one but two literary lights of the children's world, Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert? Carle was the bigger name, so he seems to be getting more attention, but not in Milwaukee, where Lois Ehlert was one of the city's treasures, inscribed on the Wisconsin Writers Hall of Fame at the Milwaukee Public Library. From her studio in the Lower East Side, she would create those amazing collage illustrations that brought her books to life. 

When I was still working on the floor of the Iron Block location of the Schwartz Bookshops, my coworker Jean put together a lovely display of Growing Vegetable Soup in our kids section, which was this weird little space across from the Water Street desk. I can see it like I am still there, but since it was 1987, I have no photo. If  we made it now, there'd be 700 images on the internet. 

While I never hosted an event for Ehlert at Schwartz, being holed up in my supply closet buying mostly adult books for the stores, I know she did many events at Harry W. Schwartz, as well as at kid-centered and also much missed Book Bay, which was across the street on Downer Avenue and then in Whitefish Bay, in the space of the Book Nook when it moved to Shorewood as a Schwartz location. Bookstore musical chairs! I'm quite positive that Carle also visited Book Bay, and might have signed at one of the Schwartz stores too, maybe Brookfield, which also at one time had a separate kids store. I can ask Pat (the longtime proprietor) next time she's at the bookstore, and I'm sure she'll have a fabulous story about his visit. 

At Boswell, we hosted Ehlert several times, and my absolute favorite was for Rrralph, a picture book that was inspired by the old series of jokes about the dog that can talk. Hey Ralph, what's on that tree? "Bark, bark, bark!" Ehlert did the event with her brother - as kids, they loved this running gag. As always, there was no slide show because to Ehlert's eyes, the colors weren't quite right in the projection. And as always, Ehlert didn't sign board books, worried that young kids would put the books with ink on them in their mouths. 

Here's an interesting coincidence. Ehlert and Carle mostly wrote their own books, but each illustrated one or more books that they didn't write. And if you look at the most popular book that each illustrated but did not write, the author is the same person, Bill Martin, Jr. He wrote both Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with Carle's artwork and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with Ehlert's. 

Jim Higgins offered this obituary of Lois Ehlert in the Journal Sentinel.

We will miss you both. Thank you for all the wonderful books you created. 

Alas, the images I took of Lois talking about Rrralph were very dark, and to get them lighter, they wound up being more grainy. I am not a professional photographer!

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