A Surprise Blast from the Past

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 15th, 2010

Back in March, I wrote a post called Favorite Picture Books No One Else Knew. The first book I mentioned was a lovely picture book, Princesses’ Tresses. Here’s what I wrote in that post:

“One of my favorite no-one-else books was Princesses’ Tresses by Luciana Roselli. This book was an early 70’s confection of (three?)-color art in sherbet hues, drawn with a fanciful, sentimental line. The story was simple, about a little girl with very short hair who yearned for long princess hair, oodles and miles and spaghetti swirls of it — until she realized how much of a pain that much hair would actually be, and she settles for trusting that her hair will grow to a pretty, manageable length and will be just fine and dandy, thank you.

Why did I love this book so very much? I can’t even begin to tell you. Perhaps it was partly the fact that my mother gave it to me especially because of my very thick, impossible hair, and partly that the little girl’s name was Elisabeth (that elegant variation of my own very common name). I know it had something to do with the images that went with phrases like, ‘It would take seven handmaidens to wash it, seven suns to dry it…’ [paraphrased; I can’t find my beloved copy].

I was entranced by the improbably elaborate hairdos necessary to contain all that mass: for instance, hair parted and braided and fashioned into, say, a large garden trellis. The consequences of incredible tresses became increasingly absurd, ending, I think, with a prince or two getting lost in there. (Put Dr. Freud back on the shelf; this book was too sprightly to have engaged in metaphor.)

The writing was actually lyrical, but it was also simple and clear and comfortingly matter-of-fact, like a good fairy tale. I don’t know how and where my mother found that book, and I’m sure she never would have imagined I’d read it almost as often as I read Where the Wild Things Are, but there you are. In all my years of loving and living with books, I’ve never met another person familiar with that one.”

Here’s where things get good. Not only did I hear from one or two other readers who had read that book, but just the other day the author’s daughter found the post and wrote a comment! Yes, thirty-some years after falling in love with the book (and 47 years after it was written), I had the pleasure of meeting the little girl who inspired one of my all-time favorite stories.

Since most readers probably won’t have noticed the comment, coming as it did months after the post, I wanted to share it with you.

Elisa Roselli says:

July 9, 2010 at 11:20 am

“I am very moved to hear that you loved PRINCESSES’ TRESSES. It was written and illustrated by my mother, and I was the little girl in the story!

“I desperately wanted long hair, but when I was about 5 or so and trying to grow it, a nasty uncle cut a great chunk of it off. That was his idea of a joke. They had to cut the rest of my hair to even it up and I think it was one of the great traumatic experiences of my childhood. My mother wrote the book to comfort me. A year earlier, she had written a book called THE POLKA DOT CHILD to help me deal with the experience of chicken pox!

“You’re wrong about the date though. It was 1963. My mother was well ahead of her time and it’s not surprising that you estimate the style of her drawing at a decade later than it was.

“She had an international career as an illustrator and designer and died in 1986. The full collection of her works was bequeathed to the Centro Studi e Archivio della Communicazione in Parma,Italy.”

THIS is why I love the Internet — nothing else in the history of the world has brought far-flung people together as easily. It’s hard to describe how meaningful it was for me to hear from her; it was a little like having Julie Andrews sign my battered childhood copy of The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles or hearing Norton Juster read aloud (at my request, at his signing a few years ago) The Dot and the Line. My book-loving childhood self met my book-loving adult self full circle. That’s even more magical than a princess with hair long enough for a prince to get lost in.