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Reader’s Reflect: Some things take a while…

September 19, 2010

“Readers Reflect,” is a weekly post by a guest blogger reflecting on a formative book, character, or reading experience that has been particularly meaningful in their life as a reader. To submit your own “Readers Reflect” essay, please contact us at courtskids@gmail.com.

Today we welcome, Roy Freeman, author and son of Don Freeman who wrote and illustrated Corduroy and many well loved children’s books. Just recently Roy published a book he worked on with his father, you’ll read more about it below but be sure to check out “One More Acorn”. On a personal note, Corduroy has a special place in our home. Colin carries around his tattered copy so much Bryan and I know it by heart. It is tattered not just because we read it so much but because Colin loves to hug the book at the end when Lisa and Corduroy hug. Thank you Don for Corduroy and thank you Roy for your participation and support of Court’s Kids.

“Some things take a while….”

My father, Don Freeman, was the author of “Corduroy,” Earl the Squirrel,” “Dandelion,” and many other popular children’s books. While I was growing up as a kid in New York and California, I did not see my father much. He was always working on new book ideas, making tours, and living up life in New York that he loved so much. It wasn’t that he did not love me, it was just, well, he had other things to do.

We did not speak much together and when we did, it kind of went astray. I think we were just very different; he was extraverted,
outgoing, and loved people; I was introverted, ingoing and loved nature. One afternoon just after I graduated from high school, we crossed paths. He had just returned from a stay in northern California. He suggested I go see what was going on up in San
Francisco. This was the summer of 1966, for those older readers who might make a connection there. I was 16 years old. The conversation lasted about 15 minutes; a couple of hours later I was on my way, and never came home again. Years later, I can appreciate what that did for me; he was dead on. Thanks!

I met up with Don (I called him “Don” because that was what everyone else called him) for a week in New York in 1968 and a couple of times in Santa Barbara where I worked as a commercial fisherman. I left with my girlfriend for a trip around the world and ended up in Switzerland (where I still live now). Don visited me in Europe twice and then I got word that he had died of a heart attack in New York in 1978. I was studying physics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and was in the midst of my final exams. I felt he had left me alone, with no chance for reconciliation. I was terribly bitter and did not even go back to California for his funeral. To this day I painfully regret this.

Many years later, I realized that it was now up to me to make amends. The living have the keys, we just have to use them! With my own marriage breaking up, my family separating, and my life hitting a big low, I realized how similar I was to my father. The differences melted and my heart warmed. (I also had to warm up my heart to myself. This is not always easy to do, and it took some time – and a piano, but that is another story.)

Then things got a lot better between me and my dad. Yes, 30 years after he had died! I began to look through his old letters to me and my mother, his old manuscripts, illustrations, and unfinished books. Man, that guy was creative! He had more ideas per day than other people in a year! And he was a very talented graphic artist. I rediscovered his notebooks from the streets of New York in the 1930’s. How he loved people. And what he could do with one black line of pen and ink, just incredible! In 2008 I was able to get one of his early graphic novels “Skitzy” reprinted and even an old children’s book idea, “Earl the Squirrel,” was published. I tried to have it done just the way I thought he would have wanted it. We had to make a few tweaks to fit the end into 32 pages, but I had the feeling he was real happy at what I did for him. And it had great effects on my own life. For a man to really become a man, he needs to get in touch with his father. It is in the bones and the blood, you know.

Later, I came across some of Don’s illustrations to another unfinished children’s book. These were done in his most colorful style ever: about a family of squirrels amidst autumn scenery in Washington DC. But the story and illustrations were not finished. I took the illustrations Don had done to New York and spoke to Joy Peskin, Executive Editor, Viking Children’s Books (Penguin Group). She liked them and we decided to give it a go. Using Don’s beginnings and his penciled ideas of a storyline, I completed the story with Joy’s professional help. (Every author would be lucky to find such an editor!) This story was even harder to fit into the page limits, but it turned out to be both fun and hard work. Then we got Jody Wheeler (talented illustrator of other Don Freeman posthumous books) to agree to create any missing illustrations. She did a great job in using Don’s originals illustrations and her own additions to bring to life a new Don Freeman book “One More Acorn”. For me it was a fulfillment of a deep yearning
to fill in the missing contact with Don and it turned into a real father and son effort. After all these years! I imagine he is smiling.
I bet he agrees with me that things between us turned out better than we both had ever dreamed possible! Better late than never.

Roy Freeman
September 2010

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