Joan Walsh Anglund, 1926-2021

Look Out the Window – written and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959

Joan Walsh Anglund has died at the age of ninety-five. She has been widely known and read for more than sixty years, as the author of many children’s books, some of which inspired cards, dolls, and other products. Perhaps her best- known books are A Friend is Someone Who Likes You and Love is a Special Way of Feeling. The sentiments expressed in her works are simple, easy to understand, and easy to characterize as overly sweet, even cloying.  I would disagree with that evaluation. My favorite one of her books as a child was Look Out the Window, a book whose message can be boiled down to the following: each child and each person is unique.  Simple it may be, but there are still numerous children’s books dedicated to reassuring readers of the same basic idea.

Anglund was both an author and illustrator. Her children have wide faces; two black dots for eyes are generally their only feature. Everything else in the pictures is highly detailed, including the characters’ limbs, hands, clothes, and all the objects surrounding them. Most of the settings are rural and idealized, but the core of the text may be applied to children living anywhere.  The book begins, “Look out the window…/What do you see?”  A girl in a sailor suit, which I certainly never wore or saw any of my peers wear, kneels on a window seat and looks outwards. We see her from the back. There is an open book next to her, a box of crayons on the windowsill, a doll in a rocking chair, and a cupcake and plate on the floor.  Many of the pictures have a static quality. In fact, even when the children are playing, there is a sense of quiet and stillness, which drew me to the books.

Every item or person in a child’s life is uniquely suited to her: cats, dogs, houses, people, parents.  Two people who are not like anyone else are “your very own mommie and daddy.” Yes, I know that even in 1959 there were children who did not have two parents.  But there they are, sitting with their child in a rowboat, fishing, an activity in which I never, ever, engaged, and neither did my parents. Nonetheless, the picture seemed convincing to me. In fact, it was quite low-key, compared to other more modern picture books which pointedly remind children how wonderful and special they are.  Here we just learn that no one else is “quite like” one’s parents.

The words do not rhyme but they have rhythm: “children planting seeds…/or sailing boats…/or selling lemonade…/or chasing cats…/or even children sitting very still.” The last activity shows a girl with her hair in a braid sitting on a stool, holding a single flower. Contemporary books might suggest she is meditating, but not here! She’s just a quiet person, who doesn’t choose to engage in the previously mentioned fun activities, which is fine. No purposeful exercise of mindfulness required.

I hope that children will still enjoy this book, and the rest of Anglund’s work.  Love is a special way of thinking, a friend is someone who likes you,  and looking out the window is a subjective and rewarding way of viewing a child’s particular world.

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