by Marsha Diane Arnold
Recently, I was sharing with students how writers rewrite and rewrite more, trying to get our books perfect for our readers. A first grader raised her hand and sweetly commented, “Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.” What wisdom from one so young. This is exactly what Badger learned in Badger’s Perfect Garden.
As readers will discover, Badger’s garden might not have turned out as perfectly as his original vision, but it is spectacularly beautiful, thanks to serendipity, Mother Nature, and Badger’s initial work.
Badger is a perfectionist. He had planned long and worked hard for his perfect garden. He had a plan—a garden plan. But sometimes when we hold too tightly to an outcome, things take a course of their own, or in this case Mother Nature takes a course of her own.
Of course, Badger is devastated when his vision is destroyed. He does what many of us do or would like to do. He stays inside, “busying himself with this and that,” so he doesn’t have to think about his perfect garden ever again!
When Badger’s friends show him a garden surprise, Badger realizes the truth that “letting go” can be a celebration, full of jubilation. Once he lets go of the outcome of a perfect garden, he is also free to let go of worry and to enjoy “a hodgepodge of garden games, jumbly-tumbly dancing, and muffins and mulberry juice.”
Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustration of Badger as he embraces his mixed-up garden shows him caught in a swirl of flowers and vegetables. His expression is one of serene happiness. Indeed, Ramona’s art beautifully captures Badger’s feelings from beginning to end—from hopeful, studious, and excited, to dejected, to that tranquil contentment.
Writers must also learn to “let go” when a publisher purchases their story. They must surrender their story to an editor, an art director, and an artist who bring their vision to the story as well.
I sometimes use art notes in my manuscripts, but Sleeping Bear Press removes all art notes before giving a manuscript to an artist. This is part of the “letting go” and the trusting that authors need to accept. Ramona Kaulitzki understood so much of what I wanted to show. For example, I had written, “Red Squirrel helped Dormouse gather string,” with this art note: Red Squirrel and Dormouse tangle the string. With the art note gone, I prayed Ramona had a similar sense of humor to mine. She did. When the sketches arrived, I saw Red Squirrel and Dormouse tangled in string on the page and the following spread.
There are also times when the artist’s vision is slightly different from the author’s. I had written, “Weasel found twigs to make holes for the seeds,” as my original vision was for a couple of the animals to make holes. But the art only showed Weasel making holes and previously walking just one twig. When I received the art, I simply asked my editor to change the wording from “twigs” to “twig.” Ramona’s art was perfect and it was a simple thing to let go of my illustration vision and an “s.”
I did a lot of research on seeds for this book; I wasn’t sure how much information I’d use. In case the editor wanted to name specific plants, I kept a list of possible plants for Badger’s garden and images of seeds. In all my research I learned a lot, like the names of five edible burrs. We didn’t use this research in Badger’s Perfect Garden, but who knows in what future manuscript my gathered “seeds” will ‘rearrange themselves,’ just as Badger’s did.
“They just rearranged themselves,” said Red Squirrel.
“If you hadn’t planted them over there, they wouldn’t be here.”
Thank you, Tara Lazar, for inviting me to visit your wonderful website and blog. May all your plantings produce beautiful gardens!
Thank you, Marsha, for blogging today and also giving away a copy of your new book BADGER’S PERFECT GARDEN!
To enter, please leave one comment below. A random winner will be chosen in “April showers bring May flowers.”
Marsha Diane Arnold’s award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, “whimsical” and “uplifting.” Described as a “born storyteller” by the media, her books have garnered such honors as Best First Book by a New Author, Smithsonian Notable, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and state Children’s Choice awards. Recent books include Galápagos Girl, a bilingual book about a young girl growing up on the Galápagos Islands and Lost. Found., a Junior Library Guild book illustrated by Caldecott winner Matthew Cordell.
Marsha was raised on a Kansas farm, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, a place Luther Burbank called “the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned,” and now lives with her husband, near her family, in Alva, Florida. You can often find her standing in her backyard in the midst of dragonflies or purple martins swooping for insects. She can also be found at marshadianearnold.com.