Sabra Field Illustrates a Poetic Guide For Children About Losing a Loved One

  • Field

  • Alvarez

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2016 9:49:59 PM
Modified: 12/2/2016 11:15:40 AM

Do they grow wings when they die and fly far away?

Or hover above me when I need them to stay?

— from Where Do They Go?

by Julia Alvarez

Between her regular printmaking work and commissioned portraits, Sabra Field was more than busy enough without accepting offers to illustrate other people’s books.

Then a couple of summers ago, Middlebury, Vt.-based novelist Julia Alvarez, whose books include How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, called Field at her East Barnard studio and asked to meet to talk about illustrating a poem Alvarez was writing that imagined children’s questions about the deaths of loved ones.

“We got together for lunch at our mutual favorite restaurant in Rochester,” about halfway between East Barnard and Middlebury, Field recalled during a telephone interview this week. “I haven’t done any projects quite like this, but how could I turn Julia down? We are of like minds. She wanted imagery that was completely non-sectarian, non-religious, yet spiritual.”

After presenting the completed poem, Alvarez “made no suggestions on the imagery itself,” Field said. “That was entirely up to me.”

The resulting woodblock illustrations feature children of several ethnic backgrounds, wearing expressions of distress and confusion and wonder. They move through a mix of the landscapes and simple buildings and starry night skies for which Field has won renown, occasionally encountering ghostly grand-parental figures.

“Having a variety of Americans in the book was important,” Field said. “I’m not sure it was specified in writing, but we talked about it.”

The most talk between Field and the book’s creative and marketing teams at Seven Stories Press, which puts out Triangle Square Books for Young Readers, revolved around an angel whom Field had set floating through one of those starry skies above a snow-covered hillock and silhouetted house.

“That was the only controversial image I came up with,” Field recalled. “They were planning to market the book in China. Apparently angels aren’t universally beloved in China, so it was suggested that the wings be erased. But in the end, they stayed.”

Now in her 80s, Field added that she doubts she could have embarked on such a project much earlier in a long life of love and loss. Her husband, Spencer Field, died in 2010.

“I’m drawing from having grown up as a child myself, and now being a grandparent, and having been a young parent,” she said. “Having all that experience is really helpful. It’s a lifetime of experience which allows you to cope with life’s terrible events. That’s why we hope that grandparents are going to read the book to kids.”

Whether Field collaborates on another children’s book will depend on the author and the project.

“I don’t go looking for trouble,” she said. “I don’t know who’s coming to me until they come. … I’ve got enough work for the next couple of years.

“But I never say never.”

Book Buzz

The Norwich Bookstore and Norwich’s Marion Cross School are inviting Upper Valley kids to sing the praises of their favorite books during a Book Buzz gathering at the school on Wednesday night at 5:30. Proceeds from the ticket prices of $5 per individual and $10 per family go to support school libraries, and the bookstore will donate to the school’s Parent Teacher Organization 20 percent of proceeds from books sold during the gathering. Doors open at 5, at which time Boloco will serve light refreshments. To learn more, visit norwichbookstore.com.

Holiday Activities

The Norwich Public Library hosts a party featuring the story of The Nutcracker on Dec. 10 from 1 to 2 p.m. To learn more, visit norwichlibrary.org.

Author Appearances

Hanover native and New York Times journalist Virginia Heffernan talks about the subject of her latest book, Magic and Loss: The Internet As Art, on Wednesday night at the Norwich Congregational Church. Admission is free to the presentation, next in the Vermont Humanities Council’s lecture series. To learn more, visit vermonthumanities.org.

Monday is the deadline to enter the Vermont Humanities Council’s drawing for two reserved tickets to former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ appearance at the Vermont Statehouse on Wednesday. The drawing also includes a signed copy of Collins’ new collection, The Rain in Portugal. To enter and to learn more, visit vermonthumanities.org.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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