Frame of Reference

A Rich Book

by Kathryn E. Shoemaker

Kathryn E. Shoemaker is an illustrator, author, teacher, and editor of "Picture Window", The Looking Glass's column on illustration and picture books. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia.

When I think of Sheila I hear her describing her favourites as 'rich books', the books she would read over and over at least seven times as they were the best of the best. And when I think of the people in my life who introduced me to 'rich books', the ones Sheila often described as the books that were in the 'only the best is good enough for children' group, there is Sheila with Lillian Smith, Paul Hazard, and Frances Clarke Sayers, a great quartet of inspiration for many.

In the winter of 2000 a committee from the British Columbia Book Prize Society asked me to prepare an exhibit celebrating Sheila's life with books as the 2000 Gala was to be a special tribute to her. So began what I thought was a two-month project, one that I was thrilled to take on. I knew immediately that the research would be a wonderful journey through Sheila's books. Initially I asked Kit Pearson to send me a collection of her favourite 'Sheila' quotes. She sent me several pages, which led me back into Sheila's books for more. The exhibit was also to include references to Sheila's work on 'Books That Shaped Our Minds'. Naturally that research delightfully necessitated visits to Special Collections and a thorough immersion in the catalogue. It was a labour of love and joy. As it turned out Sheila was very happy with the exhibit.

Working on it inspired me to enter the newly begun Master in Children's Literature program at UBC. About the same time I was applying to UBC Kit Pearson was helping Sheila apply for a Canada Council grant to write 'My Life with Canadian Children's Books'. Together Sheila and Kit wrote an outline and a first chapter. UBC accepted me and the Canada Council gave Sheila a grant to hire someone to help her write the book. Sheila's vision had deteriorated and could no longer be supported by some of the computer enhancements that she had used to write her articles and lectures. I think Judi Saltman, Kit and Sheila must have discussed potential assistants. Happily for me I was the one they asked. And so began a 'rich' two years with Sheila as she dictated her life with books to me. As well as dictation, there was fascinating research and trips to the Koerner Library at UBC to find the books of Sheila's youth so that I could read passages to her. Best of all were her sparkly, witty recollections.

For almost two years I spent three mornings a week at Sheila's home. Upon completion of the first draft Sheila began talking with Wendy Sutton and Maggie deVries about the next stage of work on the road to publication. My work with Sheila on that book was finished


Kathryn E. Shoemaker

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"A Rich Book"
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