Somewhere along the way, someone taught me never to miss an opportunity to express praise, love, gratitude, affection, or admiration. Not just to be aware of those sentiments, but to transmit them, verbally or otherwise, to the recipient. What good does it do if I feel those things, but keep them to myself? Why would I withhold a compliment or thanks if it would serve another person to say them out loud? Maybe it’s important to me because my love currency is words, but I suspect few people don’t feel good when someone tells them: Thank you. I’m grateful for you. The world is better because you’re in it and here’s why.
The day I curated my ideal bookshelf, I was reminded how very much I loved the book MR. PINE’S PURPLE HOUSE by Leonard Kessler when I was a child. I loved everything about it: the texture of the cover, the illustrations, the story, Mr. Pine’s ultimate victory over uniformity. How many hundreds of times did my mother read it to me before I could read it myself? How many times have I read it to my own children?
My copy has been on my bookshelf for decades, but I’d never thought to look for other books by Mr. Kessler. A simple search returned the website of his most recent publisher, Purple House Press. I called and asked if I were to send them a note to Mr. Kessler, would they mind forwarding it to him. “Oh,” the publisher said, “he wouldn’t mind if I gave you his email address.” So I sent him a note, letting him know how much his book has meant to me.
What I didn’t expect was the beautiful voicemail he left me two days later that made me tear up when I listened to it. The now 93-year-old author of more than 200 books for kids—who may well be responsible for purple being my favorite color and for me becoming a writer—thanked me.
When we talked on the phone later, he told me about the three young adult books he’s working on now, and a little bit about his childhood in Pittsburgh, and the time he shared studio space in New York with his friend Andy Warhol. He told me the key to writing good children’s books is to eliminate. Every word counts. Then he told me his character Mr. Pine was the brother he never had and that he and his wife really did paint their house purple. What a gift, to hear his joyful voice, to learn the story behind the story, and then to have him ask if he could read my book.
At the end of our conversation, he said that after all these years of writing, it’s so nice to be remembered and so nice to hear from a reader, “I like your books!”
Lenny, as he asked me to call him, gave me another gift, which I received in the mail today. Not just the signed, 40th anniversary edition of MR. PINE’S PURPLE HOUSE, or the happy illustration on the envelope, not even the letter in which he explained how much and why he liked THE WORD BURGLAR. The real treasure is the connection. The fact that I got to tell him how much he and his work mean to me and that he heard it and that he offered it back.
If I am ever known for anything, I hope it will be for spending my love currency wisely by expressing my appreciation for the deeds and attributes and actions of others, generously and spontaneously. I can think of no higher purpose for my words to serve.
Thank you again, Lenny. You’ve inspired me yet again.