There she is, the short blondish child with the close-cut bangs, low center of gravity, and cheeks so plump it’s a wonder her neck doesn’t snap.
There she is, making Daddy’s toast, holding Grandmother’s teacup, and, here, helping baby brother with his cocoa.
She is a solemn child, earnest and good. Quiet, domestic, something of a homebody. Looking at her now, we think: too good, too quiet.
She comes into her own when she is outdoors. She takes delight in the turn of the seasons. She gazes at stars, combs the beach, studies grasshoppers, caterpillars, and other small animals up close. Birds let her come close, even birds in the nest.
She loves twilight. Rain. Autumn leaves. And for all her closeness to her family, she loves being alone.
She seldom smiles, nor does she frown. Nor talk. Her mouth is set in repose, a Buddha child’s mouth.
I have wondered about that perfectly defined mouth.
Perhaps Eloise Wilkin, her creator and the illustrator of many of the most beloved Little Golden Books, simply couldn’t draw teeth. Or maybe the children and grandchildren who served as her models couldn’t hold strong expressions on their face for long sittings. But perhaps Wilkin just knew what she did best and went with it: drawing mouths. She could curl the Cupid’s bow of an upper lip into a fine calligraphy of its own. Her philtrums were so deep they seemed to still hold the heat from the angel’s finger, that final touch at birth when the angel says “Forget.”
When LW was a child, she was fascinated with this girl, primarily because she was her own dead ringer, a mirror self. But the solemn child in Wilkins’ My Little Golden Book about God or Wonders of Nature or A Child’s Garden of Verses (from which these pictures are excised) not only looked like her physically, she reflected the way she felt inside, if not behaved outside. (LW was not a particularly helpful kind of child.)
Seeing her doppelganger in these books made her wonder if she herself had once lived in another world she had somehow forgotten, an Elsewhere of genteel homes with mullioned windows, wall-papered alcoves, and soft lawns. Or perhaps her double was a kind of shadow-self who still lived in that Otherworld, a place that tasted like the residue from dreams.
LW returned to these books over the years, wondering about that Otherworld and the shadow-self that lives there.
[Last week LW found the “accidental” photograph seen above on her camera phone. She has no idea if it her own shadow (it appears to be, although she was not wearing a long coat or skirt that day) or that of someone else. Could it be the shadow child, all grown up?]
In 1974, Eloise Wilkin inserted illustrations of children from diverse backgrounds and cultures, such as this one, into reprints of some of her most popular books.
It is not a small thing to be able to find yourself in a book. It’s a starting point toward a larger thing: finding other selves, other worlds.