Earlier this year, New York’s iconic Scholastic store in SoHo permanently closed. I never visited the store while it was open, but I got a glimpse of its history while visiting the small exhibit that was put in its place.
The larger piece in the exhibit (displayed in an entrance window) is a scroll-shaped canvas with an illustration of a child dragging herself out from underneath a big rock. The upper part of the canvas features a text box whose words are arranged in an unusual way:
ANYWAY THERE IWAS UNDER M
YROCK IN THESHADOW OFMY O
WN BOREDOM GET ME OUT OFTH
IS PLACE ITHOUGHT TO MYSEL
As happens with most well written children’s books, the illustration in this panel not only supports the text above it, but also takes the ideas a step further. There is a main character, and this main character speaks and smiles from below a rock. A closer look at both elements (the text and the illustration) shows the metaphoric relationship between them.
For example, one of the most interesting aspects about the lines quoted above is the speaker’s self-embracement. The heavy rock from which the child is trying to escape is not foreign to her. The writer calls it “my rock,” and uses a casual tone to refer to it. Her familiarity with the rock suggests that bearing its weight is an ordinary matter. Adding to this relationship is the child’s smile in the illustration. Would anyone expect to find joy out such heavy a burden as carrying a boulder must be? The writer does not reflect on this detail. She simply appropriates her rock, her boredom, her ordinary burden. She models, perhaps, a way to embrace personal obstacles.
The last lines further reinforce the writer’s self-embracement. “Get me out of this place!” she cries out. But even in her desperation, she doesn’t reach out to anyone but herself.
— Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Associate Editor
To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here. For an exploration of children’s lives between two worlds read Alexia’s article “Children Challenging Borders: The physical and psychological journeys that the children of immigrants make for their families,” published by Zeteo last fall.
Text and illustration by Xavier Donnelly, recipient of a 2012 Scholastic Art Gold Portfolio Award, the nation’s highest honor for teenagers
(1) The Scholastic store at SoHo is just one of the many and once-popular children’s stores in New York that have recently closed. FAO Schwartz and Toys R US also make the list, echoing a new marketing model that targets children as individuals — through online games and personalized clothing styles — rather than children and families as a larger group. “With retail space in SoHo in high demand,” said Kyle Good, SeniorVice President, Corporate Communications at Scholastic, “we are excited to have this opportunity to rethink the use of the Broadway-facing space at 557 Broadway. We’re also looking forward to welcoming employees and visitors into our corporate headquarters through a beautiful, new lobby entrance on Mercer Street.”
(2) Rereading the exhibit’s accompanying text (quoted further down), I am reminded of a discussion I had with a friend a few weeks ago. I was recalling a quote from an exhibition label for a technology museum. The label explained an animation that portrayed the drilling and mining processes “from the perspective of inside the earth.” This quote stated: “The animation reinforces the message that these limited energy resources either formed or were deposited in the earth and must be extracted.” (emphasis mine)
The use of the modal verb “must” to denote an obligation struck me as an attempt to justify the extraction of natural resources. But what truly intrigued me was the sentence’s ambiguity. Must these resources really be extracted? If so, what would the reason be?
Such an inconclusive statement became the basis for a long discussion about humans’ impact on Earth, and to an equally long one on language. I felt betrayed by the author’s false sense of urgency. But, in some strange way, I also felt appreciative for the statement’s ambiguity, which provided material for hours of enjoyable analysis and speculation. I felt, in short, that such ambiguous statement — while treacherous and vile and an utterly wrong model for writing — had provided ample room for discussion that a more precise statement could not.
Xavier, the artist and author of Scholastic’s exhibition label, reveals a similar gratitude for “personal discovery in the process of learning.” Here the quote announced above:
I remember reading about an idea or concept as a child and turning it over and over in my mind until it no longer made any logical sense, or rearranging the words of a phrase until it meant something completely new. I think that, all too often, we train ourselves to revere what seems logical or reasonable, and in doing so neglect the incongruous or nonsensical, the latter of which, paradoxically, can lead to the brightest innovation.
I must note that relying on the nonsensical is not a great way to go about dialoguing, and should mostly be used as an introspective tool, individually and inwardly. Hence, while appreciative of the unreasonable or incongruous, I advice children and adults: Please don’t try this at home.