In the same year Diana Wynne Jones published her first adult fantasy, she also published her first (and only, as far as I know) picture book. Yes, Dear is a sweet narrative with folky, sometimes dreamlike art by Graham Philpot.
Kay is a child with a large family that largely ignores her. They aren’t unkind, or outright neglectful, but everyone – her brothers, sisters, and parents – are too busy with their gardening or music or washing to attend to her. This story is set only within one day in her life, but I get the feeling that the absent-minded “yes, dear”, “run along, don’t bother me/us” are words that Kay hears often.
In this story she finds a leaf that turns out to be magic. It turns her sand pies real, and made a huge red rose with a caterpillar that talked, and conjured up a band, among other things. Kay tries to tell her family this, but of course, no one listens. In the end, she finds one member of the family that does – her grandmother.
Being a picture book, Yes, Dear is nowhere near as complex or exciting as her novels, and really is rather predictable. But it’s still pretty DWJ-esque, to me. We don’t really know if her leaf is magic or if it’s all her imagination, but it doesn’t matter – as a young child, Kay and her adventures are overlooked by most of her family. Even though it’s been forever since I was a child, I can still remember the frustration with how oblivious the adults around me used to seem, how impervious they were to magic. (And when you’re a child, every little thing can be magic!) This is something that happens a lot in DWJ’s books, where the children would end up taking charge because the adults are either too inept or cowardly or too busy adulting to do much. And Kay’s grandmother is the only one who listens, and is able to see and recognise magic, because eventually those of us that grow out of fairy tales do grow back into them.
The art is quite dated, which works in the book’s favour to me personally. This book was first published in 1992, so it wasn’t really when I was young enough for picture books, but the art makes me feel a complicated sort of nostalgia, because while I didn’t exactly enjoy childhood, this book reminds me of all the better parts of it. The hairstyles and the clothes and the rooms (especially the rooms) look so familiar, it’s as if I was wandering around in my then best friend’s house – and her house had been a sort of sanctuary for me, so I remember things like reading The Neverending Story together, and her older sisters’ homemade cookies, and us making up fairy stories that made me feel like I had this soft fuzzy sort of protection against my building anxiety. And yeah, this is all very personal, so I figure others may enjoy or dislike the art for other reasons, but it’s hard for me not be biased about it.
Anyway, that was 1992. In 1993, DWJ would finally publish the final book of the Dalemark Quartet, The Crown of Dalemark. It’s been so long since my reread of the previous Dalemark books I wonder if I ought to reread them AGAIN before starting on the fourth.