|Charlotte's first published book was The
Park Book (1944). How did she come to write it?
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
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
). 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
|The book is dedicated thus: " For Maurice (a former boy)."
|A park --- and its people ---
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.
saw shoeshine men, nurses, grandmothers, and young mothers and "soft little
"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
"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"
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."
world serene in its cycles, despite a larger troubled world
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
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.
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.