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Everybody Needs a Rock
By Byrd Baylor
Illustrated by Peter Parnall
My older sister Mary had a rock collection as a child. Even as she proudly showed me these rocks, which ranged from tiny, shiny pebbles to medium-sized quartz filled gems, I never quite understood her fascination with collecting these objects. Then I grew up and married a man who likes to collect rocks, too. In fact, one of his favorite books—Annals of the Former World by John McPhee—is a book all about rocks and the history of rocks. Even still, I can’t quite understand his fascination with rocks, either. I mean, I like rocks, I guess. I think mountains and the rocks that they consist of are beautiful. Living in the Southwest, I often come across incredible rock formations like Bryce Canyon’s orange steeple hoodoos and the Chiricahuas’ big, balancing rocks, and the orange, Flintstone boulders on your way to the Pinaleño Mountains. I find the huge, expansive rocks, the rocks that combine to make mountains beyond mountains, absolutely breathtaking. But the tiny rocks—those rocks that you find on hikes—yes, I look at them, but I have no interest in picking them up, as my sister did, as my husband does, and collecting them. I guess partly it’s because I hate having to pick up each individual, teeny-tiny rock off of his desk, each time I dust it. I have a miniature collection—another collection that some may find perplexing—and told him that he should put his miniature rocks within my miniature collection, which is actually just a printer’s drawer, flipped right-side up on a wall, so that it resembles a frame with tiny room boxes. He agreed on this, and now our collections have found homes within homes, a compromise of sorts, a marriage of minds, a way of melding our eccentric collections together. This makes me happy.
You know what else makes me happy? Byrd Baylor’s Everybody Needs a Rock. The narrator opens the book with a genuine, open, friendly, imperative statement: “Everybody needs a rock.” This narrator goes on to give the reader “Ten Rules” for finding a rock. “Not just any rock. I mean a special rock that you find yourself and keep as long as you can—maybe forever.” This top-ten list, like any good poetry book, includes the five senses (with the exception of taste) to identify the rocks:
Sight: “You may have to sit on the ground with your head almost touching the earth. You have to look a rock right in the eye.”
Touch: “It has to feel easy in your hand when you close your fingers over it. It has to feel jumpy in your pocket when you run.”
Sound: “You should choose a rock when everything is quiet.”
Smell: “Always sniff a rock…You’ll find out that grown-ups can’t tell these things. Too bad for them. They just can’t smell as well as kids can.”
The book champions youth to find their special rock on their own, to make their own decisions independently. “Don’t ask anybody to help you choose…You have to make up your own mind. You’ll know.”
While Baylor’s poetry is fresh and playful, Parnall’s line drawings are spare and imaginative, lovely and creative. The drawings shift in perspective—from an extremely close-up view of a mouse sniffing a rock, to a faraway, aerial perspective of a rock in a bathtub. The people and animals are often drawn in the shape of rocks themselves; it’s hard to figure out where the rock images end and where the human/animal images begin. After reading this book, I’m convinced: rocks are beautiful. I finally understand my sister’s and husband’s obsession. Now, will I start my own rock collection? Nope, I already have my miniature collection. But rocks can be miniature, too.
Allie Leach is the Poetry Center's Education Programs Assistant and co-editor of the Wordplay blog.