Charlotte's first published book was The Park Book (1944). How did she come to write it? 
As a young assistant editor, (see Charlotte's Biography), working under the legendary Ursula Nordstrom, Charlotte admired the writing of Margaret Wise Brown, a prolific, wildly gifted writer whose ability to put the deep experiences of childhood into simple language was unequaled. 
One day, when Charlotte was relatively new to working for Ursula, she innocently sent her a memo, suggesting an idea for a book about  24 hours at a park. Charlotte felt Margaret Wise Brown could and should write this book,   unaware that almost never would an editor make such a suggestion to any writer, let alone one as established as Brown. 

In what seemed to be great irritation, Ursula asked her to expand on the memo. "Just what," she asked Charlotte, slightly combatively, "do you think is so special about the park?" Charlotte elaborated on the memo, in writing... and was totally unprepared for Ursula's sudden appearance at her desk. "Congratulations," said Ursula to Charlotte. "You've just sold your first children's book." (To right, the park cleaner, in H. A. Rey's enchanted, inspired illustrations). 

A young Charlotte lived near one special park, in New York City
In those days, Charlotte lived with her young husband, Maurice Zolotow, in a part of New York City famous for its population of artists and writers, Greenwich Village. Just a block away from their small walk-up apartment was the center of Greenwich Village life, Washington Square Park, (pictured left, courtesy of  Readio ). Not only was it the nearest place with trees and flowers, which the garden-loving Charlotte was homesick for in the city, she frequently took her then-infant son, Stephen (see CZ's Family Album) to the park, pushing him in his stroller.
Her observations of the park --- and how its mood and activities changed not just from day to day but hour to hour --- give the book an immediacy and humor that have lasted more than 50 years. 
The book is dedicated thus: " For Maurice (a former boy)."
A park --- and its people --- lovingly observed

 Charlotte saw "the park cleaner with his long pointed pole," (pictured above, at the top right of the page) who came "in the very early morning when the light is pale gold." She saw businessmen (and, even in those pre-feminist days, businesswomen), walking briskly, "dressed up properly in hats and gloves" as they "hurry on their way to work," see right.

She saw shoeshine men, nurses, grandmothers, and young mothers and "soft little babies" who "look(ed) out with wonder at the boys and girls big enough to scuff along beside the carriages," as "sunlight dances in the branches of the trees and reaches down to the low-looped iron fences that hold the green grass in.

"She saw " a little boy who had pancakes for breakfast and a little girl who ate bread and jam" who played together in the sand pile, along with other children at play on the seesaw, and the swings (see left). A man feeding pigeons, a black cocker spaniel, " a small white boat" which set sail "in the rough waters of the fountain" and capsized. 

She even saw the afternoon give over to dark and the "bright windows (which) shine in the dark sky around the park," (see the park by night, above) behind which "the little children who played so hard in the park take their baths and go to bed, " (see left) and "the park begins another life... strange and beautiful in the white moonlight." In it "grown-up boys and girls" whisper to each other "about the ships they will sail, the books they will write." 
She even saw "an old man who has no darkened window to sleep behind" resting on a park bench, covered with newspapers and listening "to the soft wind sighing in the trees." Soon "everyone is asleep. The city is dark. The park is dark and waiting. For soon a new day will begin."
A world serene in its cycles, despite a larger troubled world
What makes the small, contained, peaceful repeating world of The Park Book, safe in its predictable cycles, even more extraordinary, is that it was written and published at a time when the world itself was in turmoil. World War II was not yet over. Every day's newspaper held stories of unbelievable horrors, nightmares of human and against human, terrible battles, a devastated Europe and war-torn Pacific. The Warsaw ghetto uprising, in which tens of thousands of Jews revolted unsuccessfully against the Nazis, had taken place only the year before. Although Hiroshima was still to have the atomic bomb dropped on it, B-29 bombing raids over Japan had begun, and the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of the war, was taking place.

Yet somehow Charlotte knew, and conveyed to her young readers, the lasting, comforting cycles of human life, and H. A. Rey's pictures --- portraying an ordinary, yet enchanted city, with optimistic pink buildings and bright blue water and flat but vibrant green grass --- expand on this. The old, beaten-down world began to heal itself, and even when it didn't, some things remained constant and reassuring. 
Parks today may have boom boxes and skate boards, but they still have swings and seesaws, babies in strollers, children and parents and grandparents, "grown-up boys and girls" holding hands, dogs, squirrels, and pigeons, grass and trees, sun and moon. 
For Charlotte knew that no matter how dark things may be in human time, there are larger cycles, and a new day will always begin. 



E-mail charlottesdaughter@charlottezolotow.com
Dragon, Pen & Inc, 2001-2007