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Borrowed Sparkle

Andersen's Fairy Tales
I sat on a rusted swing hung from an I beam in our basement with a heavy book on my lap. I was ten and lonely because my only sister had left home a year earlier.

Crafting a Home of the Heart

Candice Ransom
It had been years since I last vis­it­ed the home of my heart, the only place where I can breathe freely. Con­icville is in Shenan­doah Coun­ty in the Val­ley of Vir­ginia, bor­dered by the Alleghe­ny Moun­tains. It con­sists of a church, a ceme­tery, and a scat­ter­ing of hous­es and farms. In 2012, I trav­eled to meet my 98-year-old cousin. His farm had recent­ly been des­ig­nat­ed a Vir­ginia Cen­tu­ry Farm, land that has been in the same fam­i­ly for a hun­dred years.
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The Cottage of Lost Play

Candice Ransom
Working on my magical realism middle-grade novel, I realized I couldn’t visualize where my story is located. I could describe immediate buildings, but the landscape was blank. If I couldn’t see it, neither could a reader.

Finding Wonder

Candice Ransom
When fairy tale characters step into the woods, they are beset by tests, yet are stronger by the time they find their way out. At the beginning of 2021, I wandered in a deep, dark woods because, as Bruno Bettelheim warns in The Uses of Enchantment, it’s where you go after losing the framework which gives structure to your life.

Mélina Mangal

Melina Mangal
Méli­na Man­gal’s Self on the Shelf I looked on my shelves, won­der­ing which books to high­light. I have sev­er­al shelves, scat­tered around the house. Though I am a school librar­i­an, my home shelves are quite flu­id, as in, they’re not strict­ly orga­nized. Books are loose­ly grouped by for­mat and size, some­times by genre. I real­ly don’t have that  many books (I love to vis­it the library!),
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Losing Wonder

Candice Ransom
I hadn’t written in months. Yet each morning, during that misty period between sleep and wakefulness, ideas popped into my mind. In the cold winter light, though, those ideas were revealed as withered and drab. Covid stole more than concentration and motivation. It robbed me of wonder.

Making Peace with January

Candice Ransom
This year, Hal Borland’s Book of Days migrates upstairs with me to read during my afternoon rest and before bed. It’s a daily journal beginning January 1, written from his farm in rural Connecticut, meant to help him answer the questions: Who am I? Where am I? What time is it? At 68, I ask those questions, too. Borland’s entries mix mid-70s science with New England lore, his natural observations of the seasons with his own quiet musings. January 6: Frost flowers fascinate me. They are related to frost ferns, those intricate patterns that formed on windowpanes before we slept in heated bedrooms. Frost ferns were indoor plants, created by the humidity in the room. Frost flowers are wildlings, outdoor grows created by humidity in the starlight.

Magic Needs Humble Soap

Candice Ransom
When I was ten, I wanted to be a detective-veterinarian-artist-writer-ballet dancer. Never mind I couldn’t stay up late, stand the sight of blood, or ever had a single dance lesson. Ten-year-olds view the world as limitless. When I was a teenager, my dreams shifted to more specific: a writer of children’s books and an animator for Walt Disney Studios.

Jane Langton Gave Me Geese

Candice Ransom
In Wild­ness is the preser­va­tion of the World. ~ Hen­ry David Thore­au  It’s rare a children’s book changes you when you’re an adult. I don’t mean fleet­ing Har­ry Potter/Team Edward crossover fan­dom, but gen­uine change (as with Water­ship Down). I was near­ly 30 when Jane Lang­ton’s book The Fledg­ling was pub­lished in 1980. At that stage of my not-yet-fledged career, I read children’s books by the boxload and was thrilled to dis­cov­er a new one by my favorite writer.… more

Big Green Textbook

Candice Ransom
My first inkling there was a thing called children’s lit­er­a­ture came at a yard sale. I picked up a thick green text­book, Children’s Lit­er­a­ture in the Ele­men­tary School, by Char­lotte S. Huck. I mar­veled at the idea that peo­ple dis­cussed and stud­ied the books I loved and planned to write, that children’s books were lit­er­a­ture, like Moby Dick.… more

Fillyjonk in Moominland

Candice Ransom
I’m try­ing hard not to be a Fil­lyjonk. Hon­est­ly, I am. Mrs. Fil­lyjonk is a char­ac­ter in Tove Jansson’s won­der­ful Moom­introll series. Fret­ful Mrs. Fil­lyjonk needs order in her world. If any­thing is out of place, or goes wrong, she is flat­tened by depres­sion and anxiety. Is any­thing more out of order than the world we live in now?… more

Forgotten Treasures:
Scholastic Book Club Editions

Candice Ransom
The only “real” books we had in our house was a small selec­tion of adult nov­els from the Dou­ble­day Book Club. Mid-cen­tu­ry titles such as Panther’s Moon, Lost Hori­zon, and Wake of the Red Witch piqued my eight-year-old inter­est until I opened them, dis­mayed by the tiny print and lack­lus­ter dia­log. I had a shelf of Gold­en Books which I’d out­grown.… more

Cynthia Grady

Wild Swans
In the begin­ning, before I found myself with­in the pages of a book iden­ti­fy­ing with this char­ac­ter or that one, I lis­tened to my grand­moth­er read aloud from My Book House while sur­round­ed by my eight sib­lings. The giant, mul­ti-vol­ume anthol­o­gy con­tains poet­ry from Moth­er Goose to Shake­speare, selec­tions from the Song of Solomon to Christi­na Ros­set­ti to Robert Louis Steven­son, folk and fairy tales from around the world, Aesop’s fables, as well as some not-as-old pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished sto­ries like The Tale of Peter Rab­bit by Beat­rix Pot­ter.more

Growing a Nonfiction Reader
and Even a Nonfiction Writer

Candice Ransom
It is more impor­tant to pave the way for the child to want to know 
than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assim­i­late
.  —Rachel Car­son One would nev­er guess from the fol­low­ing excerpts that a cer­tain nine-year-old would grow up to write more than 50 non­fic­tion children’s books.  This is from my fourth-grade book­let on Florida: The Cypress swamp is a part of the Everglades.more

Avi

Giant Otto
Such is the nar­cis­sism of youth that, sad­ly, one often learns about some impor­tant things about a par­ent only when they have passed on. Such was the case of my moth­er. Even as I began to pub­lish, she nev­er told me that she had want­ed to be a pic­ture book writer. I only learned of that when, after she died, I came upon some man­u­scripts she had writ­ten.… more

The Crack in the Door:
How I Came to Write Bones in the White House

Candice Ransom
I’ve been keen on dinosaurs and Ice Age mam­mals my whole life, since I read Roy Chap­man Andrews’ All About Dinosaurs. When I was nine, I added pale­on­tol­o­gist to my string of future occu­pa­tions (writer, artist, bal­let dancer, detective). My love for Jef­fer­son began when we moved to Fred­er­icks­burg in 1996. I was tour­ing James Monroe’s Law Office down­town one day and learned how the build­ing was near­ly torn down in 1927 for a gas sta­tion when Monroe’s descen­dant stepped in and turned it into a museum.… more

Elizabeth Verdick

Freddy the Detective
When I pic­ture myself as a kid, I think of my bed­room in our split-lev­el West Vir­ginia house, a room I loved but had to leave behind at age eleven when my fam­i­ly moved to Mary­land. For years, that room was my own lit­tle world, my book nook, my place to cud­dle my cat Rag, col­lect chi­na-cat fig­urines, and, yes, read books about cats.… more

Melanie Heuiser Hill

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
This stack is large­ly the Self-On-The-Shelf stack of my child­hood. There would be stacks of oth­ers, as well, you under­stand. I was sur­prised how many were miss­ing when I went to pull books for this col­umn, actu­al­ly. Where were all the Judy Blume books? Where was How To Eat Fried Worms? And, I sup­pose if I’m real­ly hon­est, I would need to include a small stack of Guin­ness Book of World Records from the late seventies…I wore the cov­ers off those books.… more

Arnold Lobel at Home

Candice Ransom
Every win­ter I find myself miss­ing Arnold Lobel, a qui­et­ly bril­liant author-illus­tra­tor who left us far too ear­ly. I pull out my Lobel I Can Read col­lec­tion. Frog and Toad Are Friends was pub­lished in 1970, the year I grad­u­at­ed from high school, bent on my own career in children’s books. Hailed an instant clas­sic by many far-see­ing indi­vid­u­als, Frog and Toad earned a Calde­cott Hon­or.… more

Pterodactyls and Dragons

Candice Ransom
The Boy chiefly dab­bled in nat­ur­al his­to­ry and fairy-tales, and he just took them as they came, in a sand­wichy sort of way, with­out mak­ing any dis­tinc­tions; and real­ly his course of read­ing strikes one as rather sen­si­ble.” The Reluc­tant Dragon Ken­neth Gra­hame wrote “The Reluc­tant Drag­on” as a chap­ter in his book Dream Days, in 1898, ten years before pub­lish­ing The Wind in the Wil­lows.… more

Aimée Bissonette

A few days ago, I scanned my many book­shelves in antic­i­pa­tion of writ­ing this piece. My charge was to assem­ble a small stack of books that had sig­nif­i­cance to me.  Per­haps, I thought, I’ll write about my love for mys­ter­ies. After all, I spent count­less hours as a young girl devour­ing the Hardy Boys and Nan­cy Drew mys­ter­ies before mov­ing on to Agatha Christie, Tony Hiller­man, and Sara Paret­sky.… more

Candice Ransom

Charlotte's Web
Books swept me away, one after the oth­er, this way and that; I made end­less vows accord­ing to their lights, for I believed them. (Annie Dil­lard,  An Amer­i­can Child­hood) It’s hard to say which came first: did I adopt traits of the main char­ac­ter in cer­tain books I read, or did I grav­i­tate towards those books because I already had those traits?… more

The Door to Arcadia”

Candice Ransom
The first sum­mer my hus­band and I were mar­ried, we went on a pic­nic. Not an ordi­nary pic­nic; I had an agen­da. My hus­band had grown up dur­ing World War II, when plane-spot­ting and mix­ing yel­low food col­or­ing in Oleo was more inter­est­ing than read­ing children’s books. We spread the blan­ket on the banks of Goose Creek. I opened the ham­per, took out The Wind in the Wil­lows, writ­ten by Ken­neth Gra­hame, and read the first chap­ter aloud.… more

No Wraiths or Fetches Necessary

Candice Ransom
To cel­e­brate our for­ti­eth anniver­sary this year, we decid­ed to take a Big Trip. My hus­band sug­gest­ed Paris. “Corn­wall,” I said. “Some­place old.” Not that Paris isn’t old. Instead of a crowd­ed city, I want­ed win­kles and pasties, lost gar­dens and stand­ing stones, piskies and Tin­tagel cas­tle. He agreed and I began putting togeth­er a trip that would send us back in time.… more

Enchanted Points of Entry

Candice Ransom
My first glimpse of Mar­garet Wise Brown’s house on Vinal­haven Island, Maine, was from a boat. It topped a gran­ite slope, clap­board sid­ing paint­ed the same gray-blue as the sparkling Hur­ri­cane Sound. I was so excit­ed I near­ly fell over­board. We’d just passed the Lit­tle Island that Mar­garet had made famous in her Calde­cott-win­ning book and I’d spot­ted a seal doz­ing on the rocks.… more

Richard Adams Gave Me Rabbits

Candice Ransom
Knee-deep in spring! The rab­bits will be here soon, rangy after a long win­ter. They like our yard because we have low bush­es good for hid­ing and we let the lawn go to clover and dan­de­lions. I like to think rab­bits feel safe because they have lit­tle chance else­where. If ever there was an ani­mal with “a thou­sand ene­mies,” it’s the cot­ton­tail rab­bit, a crea­ture I nev­er paid much atten­tion to until Water­ship Down.… more

On the Way to East Dene

Candice Ransom
One day dur­ing this drea­ry Vir­ginia win­ter, I came across a talk by Susan Coop­er, giv­en at Sim­mons Col­lege in 1980. The talk was titled, “Nahum Tarune’s Book.” To explain the title, she begins by quot­ing an aston­ish­ing pas­sage from the intro­duc­tion of Come Hith­er by Wal­ter de la Mare, an anthol­o­gy of poet­ry first pub­lished in 1923: In my rov­ings and ram­blings as a boy I had often skirt­ed the old stone house in the hol­low.… more

The Arrow of Time

Candice Ransom
When you walk into our house, you know imme­di­ate­ly my hus­band and I are read­ers. The din­ing room is des­ig­nat­ed as the library, but there are book­cas­es and books in every sin­gle room, includ­ing the bath­rooms. We sub­scribe to The Wall Street Jour­nal and the Sun­day New York Times, as well as Smith­son­ian, Audubon, and Sky and Tele­scope.more

When a Map Is a Journey

Candice Ransom
The first map I remem­ber was flashed briefly on TV, part of a com­mer­cial for Sto­ry Book Land. It aired on “Cap­tain Tugg,” a local kid­die pro­gram. I adored Cap­tain Tugg, so any­thing he endorsed must be gold. Like the home-movie type kid shows of the 50s and 60s, Sto­ry Book Land was a fam­i­ly-owned amuse­ment park. And for my ninth birth­day, I was going to Sto­ry Book Land!… more

Teaching Passion

Candice Ransom
When the direc­tor of Hollins University’s grad­u­ate pro­gram in children’s lit­er­a­ture asked me to teach a crit­i­cal class on the his­to­ry of children’s book illus­tra­tors, I said no. Even with an MFA in writ­ing for chil­dren from Ver­mont Col­lege, an MA in children’s lit­er­a­ture from Hollins, scores of pub­lished books, and years of teach­ing grad­u­ate-lev­el cre­ative class­es, I still felt like a fraud.… more

The Angel in the Woods

Candice Ransom
It was the ear­ly eight­ies and I was grap­pling with my first mid­dle grade nov­el, a piti­ful imi­ta­tion of Daniel Pinkwater’s Alan Mendel­sohn, the Boy from Mars. The boy in my apt­ly-titled “The Dooms­day Kid” played Dun­geons and Drag­ons and attend­ed a rock con­cert that end­ed in a bot­tle-and-can riot. For “research,” I tried to teach myself D&D and dragged my hus­band to a Bad Com­pa­ny con­cert that end­ed in his tem­po­rary deaf­ness.… more

The Books We Keep Forever

Candice Ransom
A few weeks ago, I stood at the cor­ner of 37th and Madi­son Avenue in New York City and gazed long­ing­ly at the ele­gant pink mar­ble build­ing that housed J.P. Morgan’s library, now the Mor­gan Library and Muse­um. In late Jan­u­ary 2019, the Mor­gan will host the “Tolkien: Mak­er of Mid­dle-earth” exhib­it. I’m too early. I only trav­el to New York every three or four years, but I’ll come back to see this exhib­it, even if I have to crawl.… more

Tonight is the Night …

Candice Ransom
… when dead leaves fly like witch­es on switch­es across the sky …  In the cen­ter of our Wegman’s is all the stuff that is not food. Of course, I head there first. Brows­ing tea tow­els and sun­flower coast­ers is my reward from hav­ing to shop in the too-big gro­cery store.  Recent­ly I found a plate among the Hal­loween décor.… more

The Need for Secret Places

Candice Ransom
In the fifth grade, my best friend and I dis­cov­ered a tan­gle of hon­ey­suck­le in the scrub­by woods bor­der­ing our school play­ground. It would make the per­fect recess refuge. All we had to do was pull the hon­ey­suck­le from inside the cir­cle of saplings it was twined around, leav­ing a cur­tain of vines. The next day, we sprint­ed into the thick­et and began rip­ping out vines.… more

Some Illustrator!

Candice Ransom
In my next life, I’m com­ing back either as a cat liv­ing in our house (think Canyon Ranch for cats), or Melis­sa Sweet. I’ve fol­lowed her career since she illus­trat­ed James Howe’s Pinky and Rex (1990). I love this book for its atyp­i­cal char­ac­ters (Pinky is a boy who loves pink and stuffed ani­mals, and Rex, his girl friend, is into dinosaurs), but also for Melissa’s fresh-faced char­ac­ters and bright watercolors.… more

Pumpkins into Coaches

Candice Ransom
In 1961, when I was nine, I fell under the spell of a crum­bling stone tow­er. It stood on the weed-choked prop­er­ty of the Port­ner Manor in Man­as­sas, Vir­ginia, cat­ty-cor­ner from my cousin’s house. As a devo­tee of Trix­ie Belden books, I craved mys­ter­ies the way oth­er kids longed for ponies. Here was a mys­tery with­in spit­ting distance! My cousin and I talked about the “Civ­il War look-out” tow­er until we final­ly had to climb it.… more

Unexpected Wonder

Candice Ransom
Last Sep­tem­ber, we drove to an emp­ty lake deep in the Appalachi­ans for a short vaca­tion, a much-need­ed chance to relax.  I longed to escape writ­ing and house chores and cats and recon­nect with nature.  When we arrived, clouds draped over the peaks and our room was gloomy. I missed civ­i­liza­tion instant­ly and forced my hus­band to dri­ve the sev­en crooked miles back down the moun­tain to the near­est ham­let so I could hit the Dol­lar store (the biggest con­cern).… more

Behind the Sign

Candice Ransom
I came down with the flu. After weeks of drag­ging myself to the com­put­er, I final­ly lis­tened to the doc­tor and let myself be sick. One after­noon I pulled out my old jour­nals. I haven’t kept a jour­nal in the last few years, instead a plan­ner dic­tates my days. My com­po­si­tion note­books are a mish­mash of thoughts, mem­o­ries, obser­va­tions, scrib­blings on books in progress, and notes from writer’s con­fer­ences.… more

Poetry from Stones

Candice Ransom
Out­side my win­dow right now: bare trees, gray sky, a brown bird. No, let’s try again. Out­side my win­dow, the leaf­less sweet­gum shows a con­do of squir­rels’ nests, a dark blue rim on the hori­zon indi­cates wind mov­ing in, and a white-crowned spar­row scritch­es under the feed­ers. Bet­ter. Even in win­ter, espe­cial­ly in win­ter, we need to wake up our lazy brains, reach for names that might be hibernating. … more

True Story

Candice Ransom
Recent­ly I attend­ed a writer’s con­fer­ence main­ly to hear one speak­er. His award-win­ning books remind me that the very best writ­ing is found in children’s lit­er­a­ture. When he deliv­ered the keynote, I jot­ted down bits of his sparkling wisdom. At one point he said that we live in a bro­ken world, but one that’s also filled with beau­ty. My pen slowed.… more

The Sameness of Sheep

Candice Ransom
Once, when I dis­cussed my work-in-progress, mid­dle-grade nov­el with my agent, I told her the char­ac­ter was eleven. “Make her twelve,” she said. “But eleven-year-olds aren’t the same as twelve-year-olds,” I protest­ed. “Those are dif­fer­ent ages.” “Make her twelve,” she insist­ed. “The edi­tor will ask you to change it anyway.” I didn’t fin­ish the book (don’t have that agent any­more, either).… more

The Book Box

Candice Ransom
For a fic­tion work­shop, I asked par­tic­i­pants to bring in child­hood books that influ­enced them to become a writer. Nat­u­ral­ly, I did the assign­ment myself. Choos­ing the books was easy, but they felt insub­stan­tial in my hands, vin­tage hard­backs that lacked the heft of, say, the last Har­ry Pot­ter. When it came my turn to talk, I fig­ured I’d stam­mer excus­es for their shab­by, old-fash­ioned, stamped jack­ets.… more