Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Illustrations I Loved in My Earliest Years 4

Sensing that I might become an illustrator one day, I paid close attention to Copper-Toed Boots by Marguerite de Angeli, published in 1938 by Doubleday Doran & Company. Born in Lapeer, Michigan, in 1889, de Angeli lived to be 98. She was named a Caldecott Honor Book Illustrator not once but twice! Her Copper-Toed Boots commemorates her father’s boyhood and that of his friend in Lapeer. As my childhood was spent in the loving presence of my grandmother and great aunt, who were of de Angeli’s generation, I felt close to the scenes she depicted, starting with the town stretching across the endpapers.

Illustration Resembling My Hometown
In Marguerite de Angeli’s Copper-Toed Boots (1938)

Her Lapeer was my Pine Village, Indiana! From the trees whose roots lifted the sidewalk to the barns and stables in backyards, the hamlet glowing in de Angeli’s prismatic crayon illustration could so easily have been my town: the place I felt existed just for me and my friends in grade school. I was that boy with the straw hat!

I had my mother read the book to me over and over, until I could read it for myself. I even liked the feel of the cover, which was a soft gray cloth turned tan with age. Inside were details I knew from firsthand experience. The hand pump in the kitchen was identical to the one in my Great Uncle Charlie’s home. The black jug was the same shape as one my mother adored. I had seen posts with iron tops shaped like horses’ heads and had been told that, in the horse times, farmers had tied their horses to the posts when they came to town. The tulips beside the walk, the calf in the thicket, the coal oil lamps (which my father lit when the lights went out), the shaded ceiling lamp hanging above the dining table (like my great aunt’s), the anvil in the blacksmith shop: all were familiar to me.

Unlike the boys in the book, I did not swim (being afraid of the water), and I did not climb trees (having to beg my father to come get me down again). Also, I did not like the circus (fearing the clowns). … but everything else in the plot of de Angeli’s book struck such familiar chords with me that I trusted the events as authentic. They could have happened to me or to the older folks who shared my mother’s dinners every Sunday.   

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