An Inspiration Grows Up

Fifteen years ago, I bought a dress for my two-year-old daughter. I thought it was the perfect little toddler dress – a red jumper that had a bit of a bell-shaped swing. I even paid full price for it, counter to my usual shopping philosophy.

My daughter however, was not enthusiastic about my taste in clothing. When I put the dress on her, she sat down on her wee diapered tush and cried, “I don’t like this dress Mommy. Take it off! Take it OFF!”

There are some battles worth fighting for. There are others where it’s best if you just write about them. This mother-daughter impasse was the inspiration for Ella Sarah Gets Dressed; the first children’s book I both wrote and illustrated, which won a Caldecott Honor award, way back in 2004.

Now my Ella Sarah picks out her own clothing, and pays for it too. She has defined her own style and has modeled and blogged for a local shoe store for the past three years. I even find myself consulting her on many of my wardrobe concoctions. I dare not wear an outfit that raises an eyebrow from her!

I am bringing this up now because I have been thinking a lot about this child I’ve known for nearly eighteen years. And I’ve been thinking about her because she is about to leave me. She will be going to college in New York in the Fall.

I would be waxing sentimental at this point whether I had written a book about Ella or not, but having preserved that moment in our lives in print perhaps makes it feel more poignant. Or sappy. Or both.

Ella has been a willing model for many of my illustrations over the years. There is nothing like having a kid handy when you are working on a children’s book. She outgrew my picture book needs quite a few years ago, to be replaced by her sister, who in turn has been replaced by younger neighborhood children, but I’ve done many images that owe their accuracy to Ella’s cooperative posing.

So maybe what I am feeling as we all prepare for her flight east – along with the joy and pride and sadness and worry  and hope – is gratitude. She gave me a enormous gift in being the inspiration for a story that became a book – a book that added my name to a venerable list of illustrators in addition to making me a published author. I never expected such a payoff when I boarded this motherhood boat.

Ella plans to major in Graphic Design and Communications. She says she wants to work in publishing some day. She may even study illustration for a while. Perhaps I have returned the favor and inspired her a just a bit?

Whatever she does, may she find as supportive a community of people with whom to work as I have. Go with grace, little bird!

16 responses to “An Inspiration Grows Up

  1. This is so lovely! Thanks for sharing this touching story.

  2. laurakvasnosky

    Oh Margaret. What a beautiful post.

  3. Margaret Bovingdon

    What a sweet tribute to your wonderful Ella.

  4. Love this post, seeing all those sweet photos that served as inspiration for your wonderful illustrations. Good luck to your daughter on her new adventure :).

  5. Beautiful post, Margaret, inspired by a very beautiful girl. xo

  6. Thank you for sharing an mother’s intimate story of her daughter. Ella Bella is all grown up.

  7. Sigh…smile…

  8. Mary Gogulski

    What a lovely story. Thanks for sharing it. Best wishes to Ella.

  9. That woman leaping in the air (who looks 25) is our little Ella Sarah?! Unbelievable!! (Thank you, Margaret, for a lovely, lovely post.)

  10. Heidi Hutchinson

    This was so wonderful to see the photos that inspired your illustrations. Ella is a special girl, as is Clare, and we are so glad we’ve gotten to see them grow up over the years across the alley. You must be bursting with pride!

  11. Ann Elizabeth Boles

    Unequipped with tissue, the tears just stream sweetly down empathetic cheeks!!! Beautiful!

  12. We will miss Ella (and her blog posts) too! She inspired us with her fresh take on things, her creativity, and all-around-good style. Plus, we just liked hanging out with her! Looking forward to seeing what Ella does with her many gifts…

  13. A beautiful tribute, Margaret. Not only have you inspired Ella, but many of us around you.

  14. Margaret, thank you for sharing the photos AND the subsequent illustrations. I love seeing how you transform one into the other, AND how Ella Sarah has been transformed as well from an inquisitive toddler into a strong, beautiful young woman! I know she will enjoy her new adventures and that you will too, albeit from a distance. Enjoy every precious moment before your little bird fledges. Meg

  15. Peggie Irvine-Paae

    Margaret, What a lovely tribute to Ella and so beautifully expressed & organized. Loved it ! ( with tears, of course) GPeg

  16. I just stumbled onto your blog while looking at some of Julie’s fabrics (for my own Nina, who loves your books…), and what a gorgeous tribute to Ella and your relationship with her. Last I saw you, she was just starting middle school and drinking tea in the summer morning. All the best to your family, with great appreciation.

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