Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Book Is A Friend, Part 2

One of the Little Toot books in the series written and illustrated
by Hardie Gramatky, a playmates's grandfather. (c.1975)

When I was a little girl, growing up in Glen Rock NJ, amongst many things, we shared the pleasure of relaxed property lines with our friendly neighbors.  Children were permitted to "cut through" neighbors yards to shorten their traveling time from house to house.  Therefore, to visit a family that lived around the block you didn't need to actually walk around the block to get there... you simply went down a neighbor's driveway, through some hedges, walked up another driveway and voila!  You arrived!  (This is a total small town phenomenon, circa 1970s, I doubt this courtesy still exists.)  We never had "play dates" we went "calling for" friends.  So "cutting through" made "calling for friends," (and disappearing at chore time or darting away from pesky younger siblings, and such) very convenient.

One of my closest childhood playmates, Tina S., lived around the block and we utilized the "cut through" several times a day from the time we were very, very young.  Our mothers decided it was safe as long as we met each other half-way.  One afternoon, (I must have been about 5 years old) I remember waiting patiently for my little friend in the hollows of a large rhododendron bush on the side of a neighbor's yard.  I finally saw her approaching... but with an older-looking man, wearing a cap, in tow.  As they came closer, I saw that the man looked quite jolly and he seemed to be taking great delight in the adventure of "cutting through."  Tina was smiling and waving at me, but still...  this "guest" was quite unexpected.  I was terrified at the sight of a stranger and as they got closer I really lost it.  I turned and shrieked and ran back home to my mother with my heart in my throat!

A few minutes later, a laughing gentleman with twinkling eyes stood, with my playmate, at our back door.  He was Hardie Gramatky, the famous author and illustrator of the classic children's book series, Little Toot.  And Tina' grandfather.  He was visiting from Connecticut and Tina wanted him to meet her little friend.  What a lovely welcome I gave him!  Nevertheless, a thoughtful Christmas gift still appeared under our tree that winter, inscribed and signed to my sister and me.

"For Angela and Livia Gorini, with love from LITTLE TOOT
and Hardie Gramatky, Christmas 1975"

Oh, how I treasured that little book (but not that memory, necessarily)!  The Little Toot  book series is still one of my favorites: a collection of lovely stories about a mischievous, imaginative tugboat.  Each adventure revolves around a small, seemingly insignificant "little boat with a very big job."  Little Toot makes his mark with acts of bravery and fortitude... always managing to save the day.  The cheerful illustrations have just the right amount of wit, and the sweet, classic style makes me as nostalgic today as it did in my youth.  Is it possible that some things just get better with time?  It is no wonder many of these stories are still in print today!

As an adult, I now realize what an accomplished artist Mr. Gramatky was.  A recent visit to his beautiful website lists the awards he received for his watercolor paintings (over 40!), as well as notable projects (he worked with Disney on animations), and gives a comprehensive overview on his life and impressive body of work.

Hardie Gramatky, 1907-1979
Considered by Andrew Wyeth to be
"one of the 20 great American watercolorists." 

To meet a renown author (especially under such dramatic circumstances!), whose work you can truly relate to, when you are a child of such an impressionable age is a very powerful thing.  I remember being inspired to write and illustrate stories of my very own, thinking maybe one day, I too could create something special.  I shall never forget the charming man, with the twinkling eyes, who opened one of the many doors to my imagination.

You know, I still have some of those stories I wrote and illustrated as a child.  Even though the paper they are written on has yellowed with time and the colors of the drawings have faded, the memories of those dreams are still very much alive.  I loved expressing myself through images and words... and obviously, still do!  Hopefully, like Little Toot, I'll keep getting better with time.



  1. Ah, what a wonderful blog article that takes me back in time. I'm Tina's mother and the daughter of Hardie Gramatky and I laughed at the image of your running back home, Angela, scared of the "strangeer" that Tina was walking with. Actually, 1975 was before the time of needles in Halloween apples and possible abuse in nursery schools (which turned out to be apocryphal) and all parents urging their children "not to speak to strangers". So I'm impressed that even with Tina waving madly at you, you decided rather to be safe than sorry.

    You were the most delightful little girl, always talented, and it's no surprise that you are such a creative artist with Divine Rooms. And I'm thrilled that you still love Little Toot. Unfortunately, the sequels are out of print (I always hope that one day they'll be reprinted because librarians and teachers keep asking for them) but three years ago Penguin Putnam came out with a classic restored edition of Little Toot with the artwork rescanned so that Dad's original bright, primary colors have returned. Yay!d

    Thanks for remembering my father, Angela. I remember how he thought the Gorinis were such a special family ... and your mother even had a home mass said for Dad after he died, such a touching memory.

    Love, Linda Gramatky Smith (Westport, CT)

  2. Hi Linda.... aka "Mrs. Smith." Happy you liked my little story about Hardie. What an honor to have this memory of him. And an even greater honor to have been so close to YOUR special family. The Gorinis and the Smiths had some really good times together. :) Thanks for checking out my blog. And let's get those books back in print!