Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Harlequin and The Gift of Many Colors

"Due to the generosity of his friends,
Harlequin gets a new patchwork suit for Carnival."

I discovered Harlequin and The Gift of Many Colors (1973) by Remy Charlip and Burton Supree while on a trek through the school library, in first grade. Equipped with instructions to find a book for our requisite daily sessions of “silent reading” (translation: a cunningly devised kill-two-birds-with-one-stone period of quiet where teachers in the guise of promoting literacy, could take a breather), we were set to our own devices.

It was on these solitary rambles through the school library where I happened upon many unforgettable page-turning gems: The Giving Tree, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, Amelia Bedelia, Dr. Seuss, Charlotte’s Web, The Berenstain Bears, Are You There God it’s Me Margaret (and other assorted Judy Blumes), Peanuts Parade, Father Christmas and Harlequin and The Gift of Many Colors—to name a few.

Harlequin called out to me. Perhaps, it was the illustration on the cover: the colors, the costume, the depiction of the night sky, the expression on the young lad’s face—there was a mystery to it all. If ever there was a story behind a drawing waiting to be told...

I found my book or perhaps my book found me.

Set in rural Italy and based on an old folktale, Harlequin and The Gift of Many Colors is a story about a boy named Harlequin who longed for a costume to wear to Carnival, a celebration marking the start of Lent. A source of much sadness to the child and his friends was that Harlequin’s mother was too poor to afford material for a costume. Touched by Harlequin’s predicament, his friends each cut a piece of material from their respective attire and kindly present the assorted multicolored material to a delighted and grateful Harlequin. His mother now equipped with enough fabric to sew a costume, creates a magnificent patchwork suit for her son. At the heart of it, Harlequin's tale is about hope, sharing and kindness.

“And Harlequin was the happiest of them all on this happy night,
for he was clothed in the love of his friends.”

There's an ethereal and earthy feel to this book. It's as if you've jumped into another world: dreamy and magical yet without completely erasing the harshness of this world. It's a simple and sweet read for children. The spellbinding illustrations resemble renaissance era art—the mastery of co-author and illustrator, Remy Charlip (who sadly passed away August 2012). In third grade (two years after I first discovered Harlequin) a teacher introduced the book in class and somehow found it difficult to believe that I had discovered and read the book on my own. Throughout elementary school I was repeatedly gifted with this brand of "teacher"—you know those lacking in the motivational and basic human kindness department, his opinion thus didn't shake me. It was another, ho hum, adults can be so disappointing moments. Harlequin and I were already friends, nothing this teacher could do or say would alter that. Kids and their books, and all that.

All these years later and I can't quite forget Harlequin and his lovely patchwork suit.

Read: Toledo Blade review (1974)

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