This week’s column was submitted by Laura Adler of the Readers’ Services Department at the Des Plaines Public Library.
As I approached the record store owner, album tucked under my arm, I hoped her son, who was my age, wasn’t hovering in the vicinity. I was 13 years old and embarrassed to be caught purchasing a children’s album.
It was Really Rosie, a Carole King album, and King was my favorite singer at the time. And frankly, I loved the songs, which I’d heard on a TV special just a few nights before, and which were based on some of my favorite childhood books.
Maurice Sendak, best known for Where the Wild Things Are, authored The Nutshell Library, the series of books King set to music in Really Rosie. The Nutshell Library includes Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, One Was Johnny and Pierre.
I hadn’t thought of Really Rosie until last month, while listening to a digital audiobook, called a Playaway, of King's memoir, A Natural Woman.
King narrated her memoir, and sang a line from one of the first songs she learned on the piano as her four-year-old self would have sung it — matter-of-factly and without inflection. I heard in four-year-old King’s voice the voice of stubborn Pierre, one of the characters she brought to life on Really Rosie.
I pressed the pause button on the Playaway so that I could better hear the song Pierre, which came rushing back to me, playing in my head:
His father said, “Get off your head
Or I will march you up to bed!”
Pierre said, “I don’t care!”
“I would think that you could see —”
“I don’t care!”
“Your head is where your feet should be!”
“I don’t care!”
Years later, I still remembered King’s oompah-pah piano accompaniment to the verse, and the glorious, harmonically adventurous transitions between verses.
I loved this song, as I loved many of King’s albums in my early teens, and I knew it well enough that my musical memory retrieved it when I heard King imitate her four-year-old self. Yet I hadn’t listened to it in years.
Had it not been for my serendipitous find of A Natural Woman on a Playaway at the library one evening, which sent me in search of King’s music, I wouldn’t be enjoying my present reunion with Really Rosie and Tapestry, for many years the best-selling album of all time, and listening repeatedly to Carole King: The Legendary Demos.
Carole King: The Legendary Demos is an amazing CD of early recordings, including less well-known versions of You've Got a Friend, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, and Pleasant Valley Sunday.
The Sendak titles that Really Rosie is based on are no less wonderful. The Nutshell Library consists of four books for children age three and up, brimming with Sendak’s singular whimsy and charming illustrations.
You can teach a child the alphabet with Alligators All Around —who doesn’t love a preschool-age alligator in a propeller-beanie?
Chicken Soup with Rice consists of poems about the months of the year, and One Was Johnny features a boy whose home is taken over by a pack of animals and a robber. But my favorite is still Pierre, about a boy whose answer to every question is, “I don’t care,” until after he is swallowed, and shaken out of, a lion.
The character of Rosie, a theatrical little girl who wants to be a star and who ties the whole CD and TV special together, is taken not from The Nutshell Library, but from the Sendak book, The Sign on Rosie's Door. She was inspired by a real little girl who lived in Brooklyn when Sendak was a young man, and in the Really Rosie liner notes he writes that she was, “the child all my future characters would be modeled on.” So a debt of thanks is owed to the real Rosie, wherever she is!
All these wonderful items, as well as the DVD, Where the Wild Things Are, which includes the Nutshell Library sections of the Really Rosie TV special, can be borrowed at the Des Plaines Public Library.
We’re here for you seven days a week so you can make your own serendipitous finds!