To Ole Risom & Richard Scarry (first letter)

Dear Sirs,
On my walk home from work the other day, I sheepishly drifted through Winners (a garish discount clothing outlet) in the hopes of finding a cheap new coat.  My wife and eight-month-old son were waiting for me back at the apartment, and just for a moment, as I methodically sifted through the racks, I thought they were telekinetically projecting the stroller and child appearing in my peripheral vision.  The boy was very young, still a baby really, but his old face and desperate gaze made his unblemished, milky skin seem decayed.  His torso was limp in the carrier, like an abandoned loaf of bread.  His red hair was strangely thin and ravished by static.  I could make out every strand and the entirety of his scalp at a glance.  His sudden, wide-eyed presence in the shopping aisle suggested both sorrowful intelligence and trusting naiveté.  It was heartbreaking.  Then I noticed the elderly woman pushing the stroller.  She needed the thing to prop herself up.  His Great Grandmother maybe?  At first I thought she was speaking softly to the little guy, but as they scuttled awkwardly past me I could clearly tell she was muttering to herself with a contained (but still dreadfully frightening) violence.  Her neck tensed and twisted, as if in mortal combat with an invisible serpent, thrusting her gaze toward some unknown point of focus along the ceiling of the cavernous box store.  She was oblivious to everything around her.  A vertigo-like panic rushed through me.  That kid was in trouble.  What did he endure before arriving here?  How had this woman already damaged him?  In that moment I wanted justice for all children everywhere (more than anything I’d ever asked for in my life).  I wanted their innocence and potential to be nurtured by unconditional love.  I was mortified, frozen, and also embarrassed.  I gave up on finding a coat.
Then I remembered seeing a toddler during one of my summer breaks in grade school, maybe during a long family road trip.  Her diaper was full.  She had a ditrty face, lop-sided pigtails, and was scrunched up under the flabby bicep of an inebriated, toothless hag (her mother?).  They darted across a strip mall parking lot in the dark, lit-up fleetingly, jarringly, by passing headlights.   They were like fugitives avoiding capture (as seen on TV)…   As I thought about this again for the first time in three and a half decades or so, alone in Winners, it dawned on me that I’d witnessed this sort of thing all my life.  Why was I getting so upset about it now (and how did that parking lot memory remain unwittingly lodged in my mind for so long)?  Was it because I’m a father now?  I’m not convinced it’s that simple.  The answer is more specific and complicated.  I’m sure it’s got something to do with I Am A Bunny.
We have a lot of books at home, and our collection of pre-school stuff exceeds the time and energy any kid will ever muster before kindergarten.  Our baby selected this thing you made despite the stockpile.  Maybe he sought it out.  I’d watch him paw at the image of Nicholas under the toadstool, patting the bunny’s red overalls and yellow, collared shirt, as if tapping a neighbor on the shoulder to say hello and convey solidarity.  I’d never seen him do that with an image before.  My son recognized a picture as representation for the first time, or perhaps more accurately, he mistook a representation for what it was representing – and not just with the images of Nicholas.  He’d reach for the flowers and butterflies, birds and frogs, leaves and snow too.
What were you trying to do with I Am A Bunny?  I was often left in a funk after reading the book, but also pleased to find my son so absorbed and delighted by our time together with it.  The story still leaves me with a lingering sadness.  Why is Nicholas alone?  And why doesn’t he seem to care that he is alone? It’s as if he is unaware of his own solitude or of any relationships he needs to survive (wouldn’t a real bunny need parents?).  Nicholas seems freakishly at home in the world – of the world — more so than any actual person or bunny I’ve ever known.  I’m convinced my son was intuitively attracted to this.  On some level, my boy was identifying with something beyond my direct grasp, Nicholas as a kind of pre-acculturated entity or proto-consciousness, mind or mindfulness in a preliminary, essential way, uncompromised, integrated with its surroundings, inherently intelligent but without judgement, taste, neuroses or reflection, indifferent to the horrors of selfhood.  To paradoxically convey this through image and text –your  exquisitely detailed illustrations and disarmingly straightforward, first person prose — is awe-inspiring, perplexing, impossible…
I’ve been returned to an awareness of the lost realm, an Eden, a state of being before knowledge and culture.  My son still feels its presence (but not for long).  Nicholas will always persist in this return, as an idea, without clocks or demands, continually witnessing the cycle of the seasons.  Each travesty of nurturing, of socialization, of abstraction, is a confrontation with harrowing loss and our entrapment within expectations, desire, each other.  The sordid details make up the fragmentation of our everyday lives.  They stage a shared drama of perpetual exile, of never being at home in the world.
I’ll have to write you both again soon.  There’s still so much more I want to tell you.
jeremy