Nov. 01, 2015
There are two stories inside every picture book. One is roughly 32 pages long—a glorious combination of text and images around which parent and child commune. The second is an oft-overlooked set of words gracing the front or back page.
I’ve been in love with dedications for as long as I can remember. Through them picture book makers draws us closer to one of their prized people—a muse, a mistress, a lost parent, a friend. They reveal a part of their life beyond the printed page.
I’ve always consumed dedications with as much care as I do the books for which they are written. The abbreviated dedications—little more than a set of initials—sit as a teasing secret. The verbose serve as a thesis statement of sorts. When they’re just right, they become a type of hint fiction—their own artful work worth remembering and savoring and sharing.
So when it came time for me to dedicate my very first picture book, I wanted to make it count.
This is the story behind my dedication. …
In BEYOND THE POND, Ernest D. discovers his pond has no bottom. He dives and on the other side encounters wonderful and frightening things. His experience opens his eyes to all the marvels hidden in the everyday. When he returns, his world—or merely his perception of it—has changed forever.
When I was twenty, I dropped out of art school because the band I was playing in at the time was, as they say, “making it.” We were filling venues and playing shows with some of our minor heroes. My dream was in a state of becoming. Everything was going according to plan.
And then, I met a girl. Cliche, I know, but it’s an important plot point in this story nonetheless.
We fell hard and fast. Nikki was funny and beautiful and interesting and interested. But she was also the mother of a 1 year-old boy. His name was Jonah.
There was no “oh shit” moment. No “just give me some time to figure this out” moment. It became clear my music dreams didn’t pair well with family dreams. It was that simple. They were worth it, so I quit and went back to art school.
The choice to exchange my dreams for him was the best decision I’ve made in my 32 years. He took me out of my old life and placed me neatly into a better one. He gave me all the obvious good stuff—that immeasurably big pile of joy and love and curiousity. Observing him made me more creative. Being with him made me a better artist.
When my career began to settle, and after Nikki and I became established, I set out in search of a new dream, one that fit neatly into the spaces between fatherhood, marriage, and work. That dream turned out to be picture books.
He gave that to me. He brought me here.
With every book, we picture book makers extract some piece of ourselves and pound it into pulp and ink and chroma and set it between two covers. It’s a serious business. The experiences we have and the people we love provide us with those pieces. We have them to thank for our stories, and it is through the dedication we express that gratitude.
The thought of revealing the “why” of my dedication scared me. Often times, it’s the mystery of it that makes a dedication so powerful. Not knowing who the person is or what experiences connect them with the author sets the imagination aflutter. In the end, as ever, Jonah—the thought of him—compelled me to do it. He’s a teenager now, and our family has grown. I became scared that I’d never find a quiet enough stretch of time to tell him.
I dedicated BEYOND THE POND to Jonah because I have him to thank for it. Jonah was my pond. To this day, I look at him and think, “all this was hiding in a child. How exceptional!”
So, when you open my book and read its dedication, you’ll know what it means. You’ll know who the person is. You’ll know how we’re connected and what inspired that short statement that just barely begins to describe how important he was to my life and that book.
“To Jonah, for showing me what lies beyond everything.”