At the end of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, an incredulous Emily, having been given one more day to be with the people she loves, asks the stage manager, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?” He replies, “No. Saints and poets, maybe—they do some.”
The passage is one Amy Krouse Rosenthal thinks every aspiring writer should read. It gives her goosebumps. It also explains what drives the extremely prolific writer, filmmaker and all-around “maker” of stuff.
“Since I was a child, I have always had an acute awareness of time,” she says. “I think that’s what it’s about for me—it’s the thing that I’m obsessed with, just making the most of my time. For everyone who’s alive, as long as you’re answering the question Are you making the most of your time here?, you’re going to be doing the right things.”
And how does Rosenthal make the most of her time? Quite simply, by making things.
Whether it’s for adults or children, when you pick up a book by Rosenthal, you’re entering a unique world, one in which the everyday is explored, questioned and seen with new eyes—all with wondrous results. A small pig wants to be clean, not muddy; a charming spoon wishes its life were as exciting as those of knife, fork and chopsticks; a life is chronicled in encyclopedic form. The ordinary is turned on its head, and the new perspective is nothing short of joyous.
While each book is different, there’s an underlying positivity to all of Rosenthal’s work: a call to pay attention to the small moments of ordinary life, to look at what you have in a new light and to celebrate the joy and loveliness that comes from that act of reexamining. And there’s a devout audience of readers responding to the message: her memoir, Encyclopedia of Ordinary Life, was named by Amazon as one of the top 10 memoirs of the decade, while Duck! Rabbit!, based on a famous optical illusion, was named by Time as the top children’s book of 2009.
Rosenthal practices what she preaches, finding inspiration for her works within the material of her everyday life. Take, for instance, the trio Little Pea, Little Hoot, and Little Oink, with illustrations by Jen Corace—dubbed a “Bizarro World trilogy for kids” by the New York Times. The first, which features a pea who doesn’t want to eat candy for dinner, grew out of a bedtime story Rosenthal told her daughter.
“When my kids were small, there were countless stories told. Often for the boys, I’d tell them stories about dinosaurs, monsters or something in a cape—all these nonsense stories they loved. Ninety-nine percent of the stories I made up for my kids were nonsensical things. But once in a while there was some kind of cool stuff. You have to tell one thousand bad ones to get to the one good one.”
Rosenthal says finding that one good one amidst all the others is a little bit like dating. “When a relationship isn’t right, even if you think I know this is going to work out, he’s really cute, it always has some convoluted glitch—this nonfluid, nonseamless barrage of obstacles. But true love is this flawless, shiny, perfectly smooth thing, at least in the beginning. When I’m writing something, I’m coming at it from a number of different angles. With the ones that end up working, everything falls into place more fluidly.”
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