Robert McCloskey interviewed by Anita Silvey
From Anita Silvey's Book-A-Day Almanac:
“I scream, you scream, we all scream, for ice cream,” goes the old ditty, and today marks National Chocolate Ice Cream Day. What a wonderful idea—two of the world’s most popular foods, chocolate and ice cream, celebrated together. For me, chocolate ice cream in June conjures up wonderful summer days, the ocean, sea gulls wailing, walks on the beach, clamming. In short, it brings to mind the plot of Robert McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine.
In the 1940s McCloskey married Margaret Durand, the daughter of storyteller and author Ruth Sawyer. In 1946 after their daughter Sally was born, the three of them moved from New York to an island on the Maine coast. Picture books of the modern era often lack a sense of place, but Robert McCloskey’s classic picture books of the late forties and early fifties are firmly grounded in details of the Maine coast and life in a small Maine community. These titles include two Caldecott Honor books, Blueberries for Sal (1948) and One Morning in Maine (1952), and the Caldecott Medal winner Time of Wonder, which made McCloskey the first artist to win the Medal twice.
In an interview, McCloskey once said that he always had one foot planted firmly midair—and the other on a banana peel. But rather than creating an absurdist or fantasy world as such a comment suggests, his Maine books are firmly grounded in reality. One Morning in Maine is the most personal picture book I know that has remained in print for almost sixty years. In it, Sal discovers that she has a loose tooth. She’s afraid she won’t be able to sail to Buck’s Harbor with her father as planned. But her mother talks to her and then sends Sal to help her father dig clams. Sal tells everyone she meets about her loose tooth—the fish hawk, the loon, and the seal. As she helps her father, she prattles on about her tooth, only to discover that it is missing and has fallen in the mud. They find a gull feather for her to make a wish on, and Robert, Sal, and baby sister Jane head out on the boat while their mother makes clam chowder. At the local store, Sal’s wish comes true—she gets a chocolate ice cream cone. And in the final line of the book the three head off for “CLAM CHOWDER FOR LUNCH!”
McCloskey renders this slice-of-life picture book so realistically that you can almost hear the gulls crying! Readers have been invited into a day of the McCloskey family’s life, one that is both special and very normal.
One Morning in Maine shows the details and beauty of the Maine coast, but it was also obviously created by a proud father. For many years now, the real Sal and Jane have been the guardians of their father’s work, protecting it from commercialization and exploit. I’ve always been grateful to them for their defense of these books, because the pressures on those who hold estate rights can be quite intense. Readers grew to love the children Sal and Jane in books. Now they have grown up to become women whom we can still admire. Let’s all raise an ice cream cone today—one chocolate and one vanilla—in their honor!