Though she has less renown, a Seuss rival is in town. Her new book’s blue and it’s green and it’s got a clever rhyme scheme.
Blue In Your Hair, Green On Your Chair by Ellen Wolfe brings readers into the mind of a child deciding on a birthday gift for her father. After interrogating her inner circle, which includes Mom, stuffed animals and a friend, for ideas about what to give Dad for his big day, Ruby finally decides to go with her own idea — to create lots of paintings, like the ones she sees during museum excursions with her father.
“She knew he loved paintings and sculpture and such/ She knew ‘cause they went to museums so much,” the narrator explains.
The book is one continuous rhyming poem that’s both playful and sincere. Its catchy rhythms will suck children into the carefully-selected language, and inspire them to create their own art and poetry, Ms. Wolfe said. Though the book is meant for four to seven year olds, she employs multiple high-level words within the rhyme scheme, which are intended to extend the vocabulary of the readership.
“It’s an introduction to words that they will see later,” she said. “I think it’s very important to move them along and stretch what they know.”
She also hopes the book communicates a message of empowerment, encouraging young readers to take the initiative and problem-solve.
“A lot of children’s literature reflects values that are anachronistic, especially for little girls, who are underrepresented in their capacity to do, imagine, create and take risks,” she said. Ruby is a confident little girl who sticks to her guns, even demonstrating the restraint not to give her plan away to her father. She was named after the author’s own granddaughter, who is three years old.
The two line stanza sets are complemented by whimsical drawings by illustrator Anne Le Guern, whose mother in law is an Island acquaintance of Ms. Wolfe. Her curious figures have no eyes, a fact which endears them even more to the reader, and adds an element of universality to the story. The great reveal of the art work to Dad is also left much to the reader’s imagination. In one scene displaying Ruby’s finished art work, Ms. Le Guern has left most of the pages blank.
When we do see her work in progress, Ruby’s drawings intentionally depart from the representational, Ms. Wolfe said, in an effort to steer children away from the preoccupation of making art look realistic.
“I like the idea that children don’t get caught on those things, like the idea that a person has to look a certain way, or a house has to look a certain way,” she said. Ruby is comfortable with abstraction. She knows, after all, that “Your mama’s your mama, but also a shape./ Your dad is a color, maybe a grape.”
Ms. Wolfe moved to the Vineyard 18 years ago and opened Once in a Blue Moon, a jewelry, art and clothing store, initially located on Winter street in Edgartown. Once in a Blue Moon now resides at 12 North Summer street.
Ms. Wolfe began writing children’s stories when her son was young, always exploring departures from traditional themes. “I wanted to be writing stories that opened up possibilities that had not been available in children’s literature,” she said.
This is her first book in print. A former high school art teacher in Connecticut, Ms. Wolfe also studied poetry with Mark Strand at Wesleyan University. Her husband, writer Edward Zlotkowski, is also interested in introducing issues of social justice at an early age, and is working on a book called What Jill Did While Jack Climbed the Beanstalk. They live in West Tisbury and outside Boston.
Blue in Your Hair, Green on Your Chair is for sale at Once in a Blue Moon.