An envelope arrived in the mail a month or so ago. I didn’t recognize the name on the return address, M. Kunin. Opening it, I realized who it was from: my father had jokingly written the name of the former governor of Vermont on the return address. Inside was a letter from 1985. In it, Governor Madeleine Kunin wrote to thank six-year-old John Herreid for his contribution to a display of children’s artwork at the state capital. She concluded with “I hope you will continue to express yourself by writing down your thoughts and by creating works of art.”
I have to admit that whatever art or story it was that was sent to the capital has been long since forgotten—I can’t remember what it may have been. But I did remember the letter, though I hadn’t known that my father saved it all these years. I remember feeling really proud of myself at the time, and wanting to spend more time than ever in working on my art.
Encouragement, both from parents and from admired figures, can be an immense boost for kids. I’ve read many testimonials from various authors and artists who cite things such as a note from a favorite author as being instrumental in starting them down the path to a career in art.
Recently my six-year-old daughter Edie got to meet one of her favorite authors, Ben Hatke. Ben has written and illustrated a number of wonderful books for kids, including the Zita the Spacegirl series, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and his newest book, Little Robot. We made the drive over to a comic book store in Berkeley where Edie, along with her brothers and aunt and uncle, sat and listened as Ben read from his books, talked about his art, and answered questions.
At home and among friends, Edie is chatty, loud, and exuberant. But when she’s in the company of people she really admires, she often clams up and quietly observes. Once she’s back home, she’ll open up again and exclaim over how much fun she had. For example, for her last birthday her favorite aunts took her out for a special trip to San Francisco and she barely reacted or smiled during the trip. But she still brings it up as being a wonderful memory.
The same happened when she met Ben Hatke. She sat and watched during the reading, and quietly told him her name when he signed a book for her. But once we were home, she gathered up a pile of scrap paper and immediately began writing her own book, dedicated to Ben. I posted an image of it on Facebook and Ben was kind enough to respond with a comment. When Edie read it, she blushed and ran off to begin working on a new comic story.
I don’t know if this six-year-old will end up working in the arts when she’s an adult. But if she does, I think a lot of it will have to do with the sort of encouragement she received at a young age.
Thanks, Governor Kunin. And thanks, Ben Hatke.