I came across this incredible drawing today called ‘Portrait of a small boy reading’ by Gluyas Williams.
I am amazed at how these simple drawings touched me without a single word. It’s quite incredible that a drawing with no words can so eloquently show the compelling power of words.
The picture resonated so deeply with me it gave me goose bumps and almost brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of when I was a little boy in Johannesburg, South Africa, reading voraciously during lazy summer days.
With the wind gently caressing the lace curtains and the sound of Mourning Doves, cicadas, the squeak of the turning clothes line and the occasional barking of a distant dog outside, I would drift into another realm, oblivious of the world around me, and get so lost in stories that I had no idea of where time had gone.
The drawing also brought me a little sadness knowing that because of technology, researchers are reporting that fewer and fewer kids, especially boys, are reading, despite the fact that books are readily available on their smart devices.
I’ll never forget the day I discovered the magic of books. I was in primary school and my grade two teacher, Mrs. Varrie, started reading to us from a book about the Secret Seven by Enid Blyton. I was intrigued. I could not believe such an exciting story was coming out of two pieces of cardboard with pages in it.
At the end of the school day, I milled around until my teacher left the classroom and I picked up the book. I was a slow beginner reader so books did not particularly appeal to me until that day.
I thumbed through the book and looked at all those words. I touched the pages, ran my fingers along the slightly raised typography and even turned the book upside down. I think I was trying to shake the story out of the book. I could not fathom how such a compelling story was living in that jumble of letters. It was astounding that all those words, lines and paragraphs contained tales that appeared as movies so clearly in my mind.
I could not wait to get home after school to ask my mom to get me a Secret Seven book. She did a few days later but it was a little too difficult for me to read by myself, so my dad read it to me.
But the next night, as I was sitting in bed, my mom came into the room and handed me another book. It was the original Winnie the Pooh, with drawing by E.H. Shepard. (It had a similar illustration style to the picture above not the Disney version that you now see.) I can still see the blue cover in my mind’s eye. I opened the book and began to read…
“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t.”
And there and then… my world changed.