Anne Rockwell couldn't make it to the opening of her first-ever solo exhibition, "Anne Rockwell: Paintings & Illustrations," now on display at the Byram Shubert Library. She is currently recovering from an illness that has her temporarily sidelined.
But, that didn't stop her from taking some to time to talk about her work as a children's author and illustrator, her background, and the influences on her work.
According to Rockwell, 78, her story begins in the South, the land of storytelling. It was there that she began absorbing the world around her. "My mind is like an attic," Rockwell says. "It's filled with experiences."
Although Rockwell had been told that children aren't likely to recall events before the age of five, she "vividly" remembers at at the age of three being taken on excursions by her nanny. "She died when I was three and a half," she notes.
"She was a black woman from the Mississippi Delta, and I can remember her taking me to her mama's house. Her mama would sit very rigid with arthritis and my nanny would have to pry her mouth open to insert her corncob pipe and then light it."
And after Rockwell would play outside, she would come inside, and her nanny's mama would point to her pocket for Rockwell to put her hand in. "I would pull out either a ruby or an emerald ring like you'd find in a box of cereal -- and I would wear it all the way home on the bus, feeling like a queen."
Growing up in the segregated South inspired Rockwell to write two histories for young adults: "Only Passing Through -- the story of Sojourner Truth," and "Open the Door to Liberty" about Haitian revolutionary hero Toussaint L'Ouverture.
"History for me is about story," she says. "I was imprinted early on with history." Recalling the Greek stories and the Bible stories her grandfather told her, she says, "Those are the stories that have come down to us as citizens of the world."
Rockwell's watercolor of Hermes, which is now on display at her exhibit at the Byram Shubert Library, is also in her young adult book, "The Robber Baby: Stories from the Greek Myths."
Rockwell sums up simply what her children's books are about. "My books are communication," she says. "I'm very interested in how children learn to talk, how they learn to become sociable."
She says she sees no value in "cutesy books" for young children. "Books are an important part of a child's entry into this world," she says. "What is making the child starts in her home. She learns what is mine, what is Daddy's. She or he is first part of a family, then part of a school, then part of a larger society."
For more information about the work of Anne Rockwell visit www.AnneRockwell.com.