Maira Kalman started off illustrating children’s books with her husband. The books were, however, always criticized for being too complex for young children to understand the concepts presented in them. In the New York Times book review of Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty, the author notes that “Kalman has explicitly concocted what her critics have always accused her of secretly wanting to create: a children’s book for adults.” And her book is just that: a picture book for the general adult population, grappling with the idea of existence, life, and death. Kalman tries throughout her book to find ways to understand how to make the most of out this life. As she describes in an interview with Thinkr “the older you get the more you realize time is lessening.” But Kalman doesn’t exactly come up with an answer wrapped in a neat little bow on how to live life and how to accept your life knowing that it will come to an end. So it seems that adults in her adult book have the same issue as children in her children’s book, which is that the concepts are too complex for any one person to understand.
In our society we make adults out to be older and wiser than children—which in most respects they are. But in some instances adults and kids seem to be on the same level in regards to understanding things. While I have not had an experience at Tunbridge involving the questions of life and death, I have through numerous younger cousins been exposed to the relationship between death in children and adults. The results are the same: uncertainty.
When my grandfather passed away one of my aunt’s chose to bring her kids to the funeral, the other aunt did not because she thought it would be too traumatic for her kids. At the funeral my little cousins that were there weren’t crying because they were still comprehending the loss of life, not realizing that this was a permanent situation. And I noticed, as I looked around the church, that there were other people, adults, like that as well—adults, not crying because they’re heartless but rather because they were still processing to come to grips with the situation of death.
Kalman notes that we all get old and we all die, during her reflections on old people in her illustrations she notes that “soon enough it will be me struggling.” But children aren’t necessarily aware of this: in their eyes their grandparents are just as energetic as they are. In the poem Walking with Grandpa narrated by a little child he writes “I like to walk with Grandpa,/His steps are short like mine./He doesn't say "Now hurry up!"/He always takes his time./Most people have to hurry,/They do not stop and see./I'm glad that God made Grandpa/"Unrushed" and young like me.” In this case we would say that adults are older and wiser and children are naïve but maybe the naivety is a good thing. Children have a different outlook on getting older: they want to grow, they don’t conceptualize time, or lack of time.
In her narrative drawings Kalman comes to the quasi-conclusion early on that one way to avoid the inevitable is to stop focusing on it, to “find meaningful distraction” of fruit bowls and chocolate cakes with cherries on top and hats. To be, in essence more child-like—perhaps even taking a page from a children’s book to be more carefree and appreciative of the things we have in life and the things we need to look forward to.