Having discussed author autographs in my last post, I was surprised to find that the library book my daughter brought home contained one:
This elegant scribble appears to be the signature of David Wiesner, who illustrated Kite Flier (1986), a children’s book written by Dennis Haseley. My daughter said she chose this book because of its cover art, which is just as beautiful as you would expect from Wiesner, the author and illustrator behind one of our all-time favorite children’s books, Art & Max.
Kite Flier features a young man who learns the art of kite building from his father, whom he leaves behind in order to see the world (following his father’s example). The narrative is disjointed in places, resulting in several “Why” questions from my girls [spoilers below]:*
“Why did the dad begin to fly kites after he got married?” (Probably because it entertained his wife)
“Why did the mother get sick and die?” (Um, because childbirth can be dangerous, particularly without modern medicine)
“Why did the boy kill a rabbit with a stone?” (Um… because he’s a sociopath?!)
“Why did the boy stop being interested in kites?” (Because he grew up; peer pressure)
“Why did the boy have to leave his dad?” (That’s a societal expectation)
“Why did they let the kite go?” (It’s symbolic)
I didn’t actually give them all of the answers in the parentheses above — I thought maternal mortality and sociopathic behaviors weren’t appropriate topics to discuss with my five-year-olds — but I had to come up with something in response to their direct examination. It would have been nice if the book had provided more explanations for some of these actions.
This story is about the independence that is part of growing up, a theme my children don’t understand. In Kite Flier, Haseley writes:
I grew taller and stronger
and played in the village with the other boys,
who were no longer so interested in kites.
As I spent less time with my father,
he dreamed up kites I would love
Finally, there came a day
when all the kites my father flew
could not make me smile or speak,
so faraway were my thoughts.
And I came to my father and said
that I was now a young man
and wished to go and see
the world away from my home.
My daughters were concerned that this boy had decided to leave his father, a loving single parent. The father and son divide reminded me of the letter that novelist and screen director John D. Swain wrote to his son in 1908 (which I discussed in My Dear Daughters (The Present Isn’t Worse Than the Past)):
My son, my loyal and affectionate boy, some day it may be yours to know the pain, the unreasonable pain that comes over a man to know that between him and his boy, and his boy’s friends, an unseen but unassailable barrier has arisen, erected by no human agency; and to feel that while they may experience a vague respect and even curiosity to know what exists on your side of the barrier, you on your part would give all—wealth, position, influence, honor—to get back to theirs! All the world, clumsily or gracefully, is crawling over this barrier; but not one ever crawls back again!
As I noted in my previous post, there is no barrier between me and my affectionate little girls, but that probably won’t be the case forever. In our society, we expect children to leave their parents to “find themselves” and to raise their own children, even if a tough economy makes it impractical or impossible. I’m not sure what the benefits of small family units are — it’s certainly easier to balance work and family responsibilities with extended family members around to help out — but a family unit consisting of parents and minor children remains an American ideal. We’re supposed to grow up and move out, and my friends who have returned to their parents’ homes seem embarrassed about it.
I consider myself lucky to live so close to my parents, having moved to a house only a few blocks away from them after my twins were born. I couldn’t have returned to work as seamlessly as I did had my parents not watched my extremely premature daughters until we could find the perfect nanny. While we don’t live in the same house as my parents, my daughters get to see them regularly. It’s often my mother who meets them at the bus stop and who cares for them when they’re sick while their father and I are at work.
With this background, my daughters can’t understand why the boy we watch grow into a young man in Kite Flier must leave his family. They also can’t understand why the young man hasn’t seen his father in a long time, though he knows “that always on the first strong wind of the year, [they each separately] climb a hill and set a kite free.” As we closed the book after these words, one of my daughters completely dismissed the poetic ending with a shrug of her shoulders. She said, “He should call his dad. Then he should just drive there or hop on a plane.”
This story takes place in an unspecified time period, likely an era without modern transportation, but as Mr. Darcy of the early 19th Century remarked in Pride and Prejudice, “What is fifty miles of good road?” Distance is only an obstacle for those who let it be one.**
*Do posts/reviews of children’s books need “spoiler alerts”? I highly doubt anyone who fits this book’s intended audience—ages 5 to 8—is reading this blog, and I’m not sure parents care if the plot of a children’s book is “spoiled.”
**Assuming access to resources.