An interview with author Arthur A. Levine about his acclaimed picture book What a Beautiful Morning (Running Press). Interview conducted by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City.
You love to sing, and your character in What a Beautiful Morning loves to sing. Was music a part of your family experience and relationships?
“My dad was a very enthusiastic singer. He loved nothing better than to walk around the house early in the morning singing at the top of his lungs, ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning.’ (That was sometimes very irritating if you were trying to sleep.) But music is the connection between me and my dad, and singing is at the heart of this book.”
How did dementia affect your father and your family’s relationship with him?
“As my father began to develop dementia, he began to forget things, and certain types of activities would be difficult for him. He’d have a hard time conversing. He’d lose words. Then it progressed to the point where he didn’t recognize us all the time, and he couldn’t find his way around the house anymore. My son would be his guide: ‘Here grandpa, follow me. The bathroom is this way, follow me.’ It was very poignant to see how they were still finding things to connect them. I started writing this book because I was so moved by that process and very aware of my own sense of loss.”
Could your father still access music during his dementia?
“Music was the thing that my father had almost literally till the day he died. This was the point at which I couldn’t have a conversation with my father—that was too difficult. If, though, I sang a line of a song to him, he could sing the next line. He had all the lyrics and all the tunes of all the songs he knew. It would be like having a conversation, to sing, ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning.’ He’d sing, ‘Oh, what a beautiful day.’ It was like having a conversation about the weather, only you know, as a kind of an aria, like an ongoing opera.”
What was it like seeing Katie Kath’s illustrations for What a Beautiful Morning?
“Katie Kath did such a beautiful job. She was so creative about how she translated the feelings and the experiences in the book into line and color. She would fade out the color when Grandpa was feeling faded out of life. She captured the moment a song came into his mind and came out of his mouth. All the color came back into his face. It’s such a perfect and beautiful metaphor.”
What do you hope happens with this book? What would you like this book to do in the world?
“I guess with every book, you hope that you really get to the essence of an experience and that it contributes to a reader’s sense that ‘you’re not alone.’ For anybody who has had the experience of a relative who has changed bewilderingly, I hope that they will read the book and feel some sense of comfort.”