The Road to Success is Paved with Books by Ed Emberley – by Cece Bell
I didn’t read for pleasure very much when I was a kid. It wasn’t that I hated to read or anything drastic like that. I liked reading, and even had quite a few favorite books, but I was picky. I looked for books that hooked me after the first two pages or so. By the time I was in the third grade, the hooky books in my collection were those by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder. And oh, yeah—The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. But more often than not, if I wasn’t hooked by page two, I would (probably unfairly) close the book and add it to my pile of unread books collecting dust on my bedside table. And then I would go make something.
I loved making things. In fact, I much preferred making things to reading books. So of course some of my all-time favorite books were the ones that showed you how to make stuff. Ed Emberley’s books, in which he teaches kids how to draw practically anything, were definitely on the very top of my pile of books that never got dusty at all.
I discovered Emberley’s books in my elementary school library right around the time that I was losing confidence in my ability to draw. I was in the third grade, and I had recently entered a drawing contest promoting—you guessed it—reading. I still remember my drawing: a pig wearing a sombrero, with a huge crowd of more sombrero-wearing pigs behind him, and a big banner unfurled over all the pigs proclaiming “Olé for Books!” I mean, come on! If that’s not a winner, then I don’t know what is! But I came in third. Third! Outraged, I looked at the second and third place winners. Sara’s second place drawing of a super-cute bunny rabbit reading a book was really good. Henry’s first place drawing of a super-realistic boy reading a book at a desk was really, really good. I shoved my hands into my pockets and forced myself to admit that both of these pictures were better than mine. Or at least better drawn. My feelings of failure were so overwhelming at that moment that I was almost ready to give up drawing for good.
But then I found this:
I took one look at the contents of this book and flipped out. I was also flooded with a sense of genuine relief, because here’s what Emberley says at the very beginning of the book:
I could draw these things! I mean, these little symbols were nothing more than letters, numbers, and squiggles! I was ready to pick up my pencil again, and draw with renewed confidence.
And boy, did I ever draw! Over time, I did every single drawing in this book and in all the other ones at the library, too. Emberley’s instructions were clear and easy to follow because he reduced anything and everything you might draw into its simplest shapes.
I followed Emberley’s directions, step-by-step, and guess what happened every single time? Success! Success was not something I was experiencing very much of lately, at least not socially. I was still adapting to my hearing loss from four years ago. I had to wear a giant hearing aid and I was embarrassed by how I looked and frustrated by how much I was missing. Communication with others was confusing and daunting. I was lonely. But any time I followed Emberley’s clear, concise instructions, my brain would enter this zone of safety where I could ignore the noise in my brain and gradually forget about all that complicated communication stuff. When I drew those little pictures, the only communication necessary was between me, Emberley’s book, and the paper I was drawing on. And at the end of this communication, unlike in my real world, success!
So, Ed Emberley is my hero. He didn’t just teach me how to draw. He showed me how to organize the chaos in my life by breaking it down into its simpler, more manageable components. He gave my confidence a real boost when I needed it the most. He inspired me to keep drawing, and because of that, I’m still drawing. In fact, thanks to Ed Emberley, drawing is how I make a living. Success!
Author/illustrator Cece Bell lives in an old church and she works right next door in a new-ish barn. Her graphic novel memoir, El Deafo received a Newbery Honor in 2015. Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit, an early reader featuring her eponymous Geisel honor-winning characters, comes out this month. She frequently collaborates with her husband, author Tom Angleberger.