Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A visual guide

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink and be in love. I like to work, read, learn and understand life.
-Langston Hughes

I attended a community meeting recently at a collaboration lab that had all sorts of smart boards and electronic gadgets to share ideas in real time between different focus groups. There were even little remotes so we all could anonymously vote on the best ideas. It was all very clever, but what caught my attention most was the guy in the corner drawing pictures on a board with sharpies. He was taking notes in pictures as we brainstormed. I have seen this done at TEDx conferences as well. Cartoonists will sketch concepts for the visual learners in the audience. Brilliant.

So when I came across a picture book for adults on simplicity, I thought I had struck gold. Especially since I am spending the entire month studying childlike simplicity.
When Life Seemed Simpler by Welleran Poltarnees is a collection of illustrated pages from early reader books published between the 1930’s and 1960’s. The author studied how educational books in that time period depicted a utopian society. You will see in the pictures that  every one was neatly dressed, teachers were helpful, students were respectful and families spent time together reading around the hearth. Yards were well kept. Homes were clutter free. The book is chocked full of simple advice like: To make a friend, be a friend. Dress for the weather. Play outdoors and Get plenty of sleep. The chapters cover everything from community, safety, and play to pets, vacations and home.

The author didn’t make the case that times were actually simpler, but rather the ideals were. You get married, the mother takes joy in raising her children, the father takes pride is supporting his family. You know your neighbors and you love your country. The books that these pictures were taken from were a do as I say approach to education or this is how it is supposed to be.

Recently, I have been exploring children’s book publishing because
a few stories have evolved from reading and telling stories to Hadley, my four-year old. 
 Today, If anyone tried to publish the stories from When Life Seemed Simpler, I suspect they would be rejected for being too didactic or too preachy. Still it is enjoyable to look at the pictures and reminisce about a time before my time. A time when people openly strove for something that is timeless, simplicity.

What does simplicity look like to you?

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