I was lucky as a kid to have a lot of great children's books. My family has many visual artists and serious readers so books were always a favored gift for me and my sister. It's hard to pick a favorite picture book from our eclectic collection, but Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip is always at the very tippy-top.* A few Sundays ago, thumbing through the paper, I saw Charlip's picture and name and was delighted for a split second until I realized was looking at his obituary.
Charlip was a dancer, performer, choreographer, and most importantly to me, a children's book author/illustrator. If you're familiar with his work in any of these disciplines then you know that play is at the heart of all his creations. To him all art was some form of play and playfulness was something to be taken very seriously. Arm in Arm is filled with word-play, puns, jokes, riddles, actual "plays," visual gags, tongue-twisters, and songs. The illustrations, mostly watercolor and ink drawings, are shot through with a tenderness that's sweet and wry at the same time.
My sister and I must have read this book hundreds of times. We performed all the plays, sometimes complete with costumes and props. We recited all of the tongue-twisters, we copied the pictures, and sang the songs. To this day have several in-jokes based on stuff from Arm in Arm. For my birthday a few years back she even made me tea towels embroidered with Lady Agatha and Mrs. Haggarty. I have never used them and are among the things I would grab before running out of my burning house.
As a kid I remember looking at the picture on the endpaper of Charlip dancing with a bunch of kids. I remember thinking, wow, those kids are lucky, I would love to meet that guy. I never did meet him or see him in person but I feel a closeness to him that would be puzzling if it didn't come straight from the trusting heart of the kid I used to be.
Did you know that every time I am outside playing in the snow, or inside cuddly warm out of the snow, I recite these following two pages in my mind? Every. Single. Time. Such is the power of Charlip's words and images on the ever-so-slightly-OCD brain.
There are so many hilarious and wonderful things in Arm in Arm, these excerpts are a small example. It's still in print, as are many of his other books, so if you are inspired go buy it for a kid in your life or even for yourself. I guarantee that you will be charmed and it will earn a plum spot on your bookshelf.
So long, Remy Charlip. Thank you for your books and for the memories that are some of the best parts of my childhood.
All images ©1969,1997 Remy Charlip