25 May 2017

The Missing McCloskeys

Tonight I took in the Robert McCloskey exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts through 18 June. And I realized I deeply know only half the man’s work—the first half.

In the 1940s McCloskey put out four fine books, including three extraordinary ones: Lentil (1940), Make Way for Ducklings (1941), Homer Price (1943), and Blueberries for Sal (1948). I grew up with copies of all those books in the house, along with Centerburg Tales, the 1951 sequel to Homer Price.

But I didn’t grow up in an intimate relationship with One Morning in Maine (1952), Time of Wonder (1957), or Burt Dow, Deep-water Man (1963). I knew those books from the library, perhaps, but at a much shallower level. Most of the art felt new to me.

All of McCloskey’s books were published before I was born and were thus available to me as a child. But only the first batch were published before my mother’s adolescence. So perhaps she chose those for me because she remembered them fondly from her own childhood.

Notably, this one-room exhibit didn’t include work from any of the books McCloskey illustrated without writing, such as Journey Cake, Ho by his mother-in-law Ruth Sawyer (1953, a Caldecott Honor Book) and the Henry Reed books by Keith Robertson (1958-1970). Both of which I recognize immediately without remembering anything about their contents. In fact, I realize I’ve got the latter series amalgamated with the Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary. Much to revisit.