cover image Higher on the Door

Higher on the Door

James Stevenson. Greenwillow Books, $12.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-688-06636-9

Here Stevenson expands more fully on the themes he introduced in When I Was Nine; once more there are no black outlines, nor those familiar scrawls filled in with puddles of watercolor. His people and landscapes have the simple forms of distant memory. With them he offers a friendly, quite gentle glimpse of his childhood, answering, perhaps, the youthful query ""What was it like in the olden days?'' There were small eventsswinging on summer vines, measuring height on a door nicked with growth marks, knowing which neighbors liked kids and which homes on the block were off limits. And there were big eventstaking a train to New York City, trying to spot home from the top of the Empire State Building and waving good-bye to ocean-going grandparents from a pier. The text is spare and given to understatement, consisting of amusing, on-the-mark observations about the pitfalls and proud moments of being a kid: ``I couldn't make a loud whistle with two fingers. I couldn't learn to juggle. But I could wiggle my ears one at a time. And I could fall over on my face without getting hurt. (You put your hands up at the very last minute.)'' The vigor of the remembrance is in the paintings. The artist's strokes of color are unaffected and abstract: mere blots of paint represent children in one context and entire forests in another. There is humor and the tender irony of hindsight, especially in the last lines: ``I asked, `Can I go on an ocean liner?' `When you get older,' my parents said. . . . I couldn't wait to get higher on the door.'' Stevenson touches on the color-filled moments of childhood that are at once particular and universal. (5-8)