Responding With Wonder

On Margaret’s other blog, Pebbles in the Jar, the January 18 post is about the state of arts education in America. ( She writes how recent studies show that arts education nurtures certain Habits of Mind. The list includes problem solving, critical and creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets and working with others. But my favorite is in a further breakdown of these Habits of Mind, and that’s what I want to put on the table today: Responding with Wonderment and Awe.

My picture book, FRANK AND IZZY SET SAIL, comes right from that place of wonder. But it started when I was messing around with paint. I drew this big egg shape, blue above/green below, and thought it looked like earth and sky, so I added a moon and then two little creatures running beneath.

The moon reminded me of a time my husband, John, and I took ballroom dancing lessons at the local community center – which is up on a hill above Lake Washington. On the last night of the class, a full moon was shining down the lake. So at the end of the class, the instructor threw open the doors and turned up the music and we waltzed out into the parking lot. A moonlight waltz. It was one of those times when life expands. When our ordinary life became, for a moment, extraordinary. A time of wonder.

So I looked at this little painting and thought how I might make a picture book that included moonlight and music and my husband and myself. I started by drawing the characters. I gave the bear John’s lanky body and expressions. I decided, like John, he’d be cautious and helpful – and that also, like John, he wouldn’t like playing his ukulele in public. The rabbit, would be impulsive and prone to exaggeration — and would enjoy playing her ukulele in public. Opposites, almost.

If you have a chance to read FRANK AND IZZY SET SAIL, you’ll see how through a harrowing sailing and camping adventure they remain good friends to each other. And that the key moment involves music and moonlight:

Frank and Izzy sang to the stars.

The poet Andre Gide once said that, “The whole of a person’s artistic expression is to try to recapture those moments when your soul first opened.” (though he said it in French.)

Sometimes I wonder about wonder. What survival-of-the-fittest need evolved our keen relish for the beauty of the world, for its quirkiness and incredible detail?

And, getting back to arts education, I can’t help but hope there’s a time – oh, maybe as part of the fourth grade and seventh grade assessments – when this habit of mind, Responding with Wonder, is on the test.

7 responses to “Responding With Wonder

  1. Love teh image of you and your husband dancing in moonlight in the parking lot…can’t wait to read this.

  2. There are definitely survival advantages to being observant, and humans never would have evolved so far if we weren’t so creative, but perhaps those early artistic types had a an evolutionary advantage in keeping the other humans entertained. Of course, the advantage only works if one gets to reproduce…

    • In courting, most humans gravitate towards the more entertaining, a human characteristic that requires creativity. I’m sure it’s a major reason for the human’s evolution beyond all current species. It is hard for a dolphin to be as creative without hands.

  3. Julie Paschkis

    It’s nice to read about moonlight on this waterlogged day. Maybe it’s easier to float when you are filled with wonder.

  4. Ellen L. Ramsey

    May there always be wonder! A moonlight night, a flying squirrel flying out of the darkness, the hoot of an owl, the hand of a friend!

  5. In our extended family, we practice and share wonder every day, so that it’s light is always present in each other’s lives.

  6. I’ve been reading this book with my students in advance of Laura’s visit to our school. Kids really enjoy the journey of the story and make a lot of “text to self” connections. I also love the little lesson about creative insecurity and how Frank loosens up enough to play his ukulele with his friend Izzy.

    Now that I know about how you modeled this book on you and your husband, I can’t read it without thinking about a married couple!

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