Synchronicity. We mark its occurrence by saying the word out loud, not fully grasping its power but understanding that we are honoring a confluence in our lives.
Last fall, Anita Silvey’s book Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book (Roaring Brook Press) debuted. I devoured it page by page, savoring the idea of each person being touched so deeply by a children’s book, thoughtfully choosing the single volume, and ably describing how it influenced his or her life. As someone who had a serious problem in sixth grade because she had read nearly every volume in the school libraryâ€”and not yet knowing there was a public library in our town (I know, it’s hard for me to believe, too)â€”I am having a difficult time choosing one book, but choose I must.
From Robert Ballard’s choice of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne to my hero Pete Seeger’s choice of Rolf in the Woods by Ernest Thompson Seton to Julianne Moore’s choice of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott to Kathy Bates’ choice of Impunity Jane by Rumer Godden to Jim Trelease’s choice of The Call of the Wild by Jack London, I am enthralled by imagining how each of them chose one book. Did the title come into their minds right away? Do they often think about this book or did they go to that special spot on their bookshelves reserved for books from their childhood? Do they still have that book? Is it in rough shape? Do they often re-read that book or is it a cherished memory? I’ve been narrowing down my own choices and I don’t have a copy of any of the books I’m considering.
I know I can’t choose my favorite children’s book. I didn’t read The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper until I was in college. Although it influenced my writing and subsequent reading choices, I can’t say that it influenced my life. Hmmmm.
Wendell Minor has been on my mind lately. A recent member of CLN, Laura has put Wendell’s pages up and we’re all enjoying the depth and variety of the books he has illustrated. As we reported yesterday, Wendell’s work has been added to the collections of two important museums. I saw an exhibit of his paintings at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin. And today comes news that the University of Connecticut will confer an honorary doctorate degree on Wendell Minor this month. Congratulations! That’s quite a distinction, Wendell.
What about the confluence? I’m getting there.
Katherine House reads widely. She has been kind in sharing news about children’s literature with me. Katherine says about this particular article that it is, “one of the most interesting articles I have read about children’s literature in the mainstream media.” Written by Steve Hendrix of The Washington Post and published in that newspaper, Hendrix doesn’t state in “Into the Woods” that My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George is the most influential children’s book in his life but, if not, it certainly means a great deal to him. This book was first published in 1959. A favorite read-aloud by many teachers around the world, you’ll smile when you read how the book has inspired generations of children. I suspect Hendrix might choose My Side of the Mountain for Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book.
Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor have teamed up as author and illustrator of many fine books. George is now over 90, still writing, and Hendrix interviewed her for his article. Two of the recent books George and Minor have created are The Buffalo Are Back (Dutton) and The Last Polar Bear (HarperCollins).
This fall (this is the confluence … you’ve waited long enough) I will attend the Northwoods Children’s Book Conference in Cable, Wisconsin, on September 30th through October 1st. So many friendly people meet each year at this conference to talk about their passion for children’s and young adult books: public librarians, school librarians, educators from K to college, writers, illustrators … it’s great fun.
This year, Anita Silvey’s keynote will be about Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. Everyone participating in the conference will have an opportunity to share their most influential book in the closing hour of the conference. I’m really looking forward to this. Not everyone can get up to the microphone of courseâ€”there isn’t enough timeâ€”but I’m going to submit my entry form (it’s on the website) and hope I’m chosen. In the meanwhile, I have to decide which book it is. I’d like to write about that book as eloquently as Steve Hendrix, put it into the context of my life as well as the people Anita Silvey chose for Everything, and find the connecting threads, the confluence of my choice. I’ll keep you informed.
How about you? What children’s or young adult book most influenced your life?