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“Bernie wanted to help. It was a sparkling, sunny, do-something day.”
Those are the opening lines to one of my favorite picture books as a boy: The Do-Something Day, by Joe Lasker. It’s a simple story about a boy who feels unimportant and unneeded by his family. As a result, he decides to run away from home. He passes familiar businesses in town, telling each shop owner his decision to run away because no one needs his help. As a result he finds that each one of them needs his help for something, and as payment they each send him away with a gift. In the end he has a whole bag full of gifts to share with his family.
Its a cute story, but the story isn’t what hooked me as a kid. I didn’t read well, and this book had really interesting illustrations. I loved all of the details in the various storefronts. Most of all, I loved the costume shop filled with Halloween costumes. I would scour its details nightly. They told a greater story to me than the words ever could.
That book helped to birth the notion inside me that I might like illustrating childrens’ books one day. I kept my copy of the book, looking at it from time to time over the years, and still have it in my lap as I write this.
A few years ago, I was awarded my very first book illustration job. It was exciting to know that all the years of dreaming, practicing, and working toward my dream were paying off. I felt so grateful that I literally wanted to say thank you to those who inspired me to do this as a kid.
After some online searches, I came across the contact info for Joe Lasker’s son. I wrote him an email explaining the impact that his father’s book had on me as a boy and asked, if it were possible, would he thank his father for me?
His response, why don’t you give him a call and thank him in person. That is not the answer I was expecting.
I was tremendously nervous the night I called him. The phone rang, his wife answered, I explained who I was and asked to speak with Joe. She gladly put him on the phone.
A 93-year-old Joe Lasker picked up on the other end and said in a time-weathered voice:
The word was surreal to my ears. I felt as if I had just stepped out of a time machine. Somehow that little boy sitting on his bed with a picture book in his lap had caught up with its author, thirty years later. Our conversation was brief. So brief that I can’t exactly remember everything we spoke of. With so many, many thoughts and emotions swirling in my mind, the brevity of the call didn’t even give me the chance to sort through the thoughts and questions I had before it was over. What I will never forget is his reply after I thanked him for his impact on me and told him my love for The Do-Something Day.
He simply said that it was nice to hear that and that he never really got to hear from people who read his books. Even as I write that, it breaks my heart, but it fills it at the same time to know that I was afforded that opportunity.
Before I knew it, the call ended and we hung up.
Several years later, just a few months ago, I completed illustrations on my ninth book, a sweet little novel written by James Patterson. I will share more on that in the future. It was an exciting book to be a part of so early in my career, and I thought of Joe Lasker once again and wanted to share this milestone with him. His son had asked me to stay in touch after our first email.
I emailed his son to share the news, to express my hope that his father was still in good health, and to thank him once again for putting me in touch. He responded by telling me how glad he was that I got to speak with his father, because Joe had passed away in December. And just like that, my time machine broke down.
I did not truly know him. Joe Lasker was a stranger to me, but one who impacted my life intimately the way so many authors and illustrators do for each of us. He illustrated thirty books for children in his career, writing and illustrating ten of them. Of those thirty books, one in particular crossed paths with me. Only one. One about a kid feeling helpful, but unneeded, and learning that he has something to offer everyone he comes in contact with.
I don’t know why I was given the opportunity to speak with Joe. Maybe he just deserved to hear from, and be told “thank you” by, someone who enjoyed his work. Whatever the reason, that short phone call is one I’ll remember forever. I hope I can make every day a Do-Something Day.