Ruth Krauss brought a new vocabulary into children’s literature. Krauss set a modern free voice for children the world over. Her books try to capture the free spirit of children. Her vocabulary is whimsical yet insightful, never didactic or boring.
Ruth is known for her collaborations with artists like Maurice Sendak. In her acclaimed I Can Fly she collaborates with the wonderful Mary Blair, whose birth centenary was celebrated in 2011. Blair worked in Disney Studios, a firm favourite of Walt Disney himself. He loved her modern use of colour and shapes, simple yet sophisticated.
Krauss and Blair, independent women who loved art were the perfect collaborators to pen and illustrate the joyous and liberating I Can Fly. A little girl states that she can do pretty much what anyone can do.
A bird can fly.So can I.
I’m merrier than a terrier.
Swish! I’m a fish.
Pitter patter pat. I can walk like a cat.
Published in 1951, the book reinforces in every little child’s mind that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do. The book captures the creative mind of children that runs amuck. The young girl in the story, also Krauss’s note of dissent against patriarchy, piles pillows on her back to be a camel or uses her sun cap to behave like a clam.
She swings high on her swing in her attempt to be a bird and picks at grains like a chicken would. She is blissfully unaware of all else except in single mindedly doing what she would like to. Blair’s illustrations further bring this message out. Free play and it’s role in setting the foundation of thought and aspirations can be seen in the book, though not overtly.
This little picture book is powerful to this date, being more relevant today than it was ever before. A young girl or boy can read it to know that the only limitations she/he will face in their life are the ones they set for themselves.
The protagonist in the closing lines of the book asserts this when she says:
“I’m anything that’s anything.That’s MY way.