Tuesday, April 26, 2016

#AtoZChallenge: V is for Vera B. Williams #AuthorApril

Dear Kim,

We read A Chair for My Mother last night at bedtime. It is a favorite in our house. The story reminds me of my own mother and those long hours she worked at the restaurant. My son snuggles up with his mother like the little girl does on the last page. I always savor that last image: mother and child.

It hit me last night though, reading the story is a bit sad now too. Reading the loving tale of mother and child (and grandmother) is now a reminder of who we lost this past October. 


V is for Vera B. Williams
A Chair for My Mother was Vera's fourth author/illustrated book. It won a Caldecott honor in 1983. As is the case with so many of her stories A Chair for My Mother was based on Vera's own childhood. I remember Vera speaking of her mother's wish for a new chair, how she went and bought the chair. Unlike the family in the story, her mother made weekly payments to keep the chair. She shared the hardship those payments put on her family. Vera rewrote history, having her fictional family save for the chair in that big glass jar. 



Vera had a way of pulling you into her childhood when she spoke. Telling you the secrets of growing up in a sometimes unstable world, with a love for the arts, and an even greater love for humanity. The two loves, art and humanity, produced the Vera B. Williams that we found on the pages of her books and in the community. She gave generously to the children's book world, the arts, and education. She could also be found supporting leagues of human right's issues: peace, women's reproductive rights, the environment. 


From Vera's journal.

In 1981 Vera was imprisoned during a nonviolent protest for nuclear disarmament. Activism was very much a part of Vera always. Once when speaking to her on the phone she declined an invitation to accompany Kent and I to the Eric Carle Honors in New York. She said, “Oh, Honey, I do want to go, but I have a protest the next morning and at this age I need to pick my battles.” She was 87 at the time.


From Vera's October 2015 exhibit at the Delaware County Arts Alliance in Narrowsburg, NY.

Vera's work won big awards: Caldecott honors, a Hans Cristian Anderson nomination, a Jane Addams Peace honor. For Vera, what mattered most had nothing to do with the awards she won, it was that her work won the hearts of children and adults. She talked a lot about heart, especially the last time I saw her. She recalled how little she had created in the time that she was dealing with some heart problems. She showed us her journal. Pages of hearts drawn this way and that. Question marks surrounding them. She said, "Finally I held one of them up and asked, 'What's up?'"


Not the "What's Up?" heart illustration, but one from Vera's collection.

Vera made quite an impression on me as a feminist, as an artist, as a teacher, as a humanitarian. The world is different now that she is gone. It just is. We are so lucky that her spirit lives on through her books and her art. If you've read this far in the post you must feel the same. For my fellow Vera B. William fans, I have a few A Chair for Always posters from her last book signing. I'd love to hear that they have found a nice home in a library or children's room or artist's studio. Add a comment below. I will pick three winners to receive one poster (as pictured below). 




Happy #AuthorApril (#IllustratorApril too!)
Much Love,
Alison