Re-Reading: The Secret Garden

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A while ago I came to the conclusion that if I felt the need to re-read a book, then, by gosh, I would. I’m sick of the mindset that colors re-reading as useless. It’s a constant weight that forces me ever-forward: keep abreast of the industry, look at all the new books out I haven’t read, look at all the classics I haven’t read! But I’m training myself into shrugging off that weight in order to let myself (re)read what I want. If I want to re-read a book I read in elementary school, then I’m going to fricking do it.

That said, I’m re-reading The Secret Garden at the moment! I’ve been feeling the urge to do so for a few weeks, and finally checked out a lovely illustrated version at the library. As a child, I found the book immersive–in fact, I still think that no scene has every drawn me in so strongly as Mary Lennox running against the wind in the moor, full of joie de vivre. It’s reassuring to know that the effect has not been lost over the years: the book is still as evocative as the first day I read it. That’s always a risk with childhood books, that they will disappoint you in not feeling the same.

That said, I could do without the racism. There’s about two dozen too many references to the Indian “natives” and white superiority. Before I re-read it I thought I might recommend it to my little sister, but now I’m unsure. Even if she doesn’t understand the not-so-subtle ugliness, it will linger somewhere. If I do give it to her, it will be with a serious conversation about the issue. It’s really making me wonder how much of those ideas absorbed as a child from books like this.

All that said, I am thoroughly enjoying the book, and the wild moors and broad Yorkshire accents remain beautifully formative influences on me. it’s refreshing to re-acquaint myself with the story, and refreshing to let myself, instead of forging on to the next new thing.

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Report from a Literature Symposium

What a day! I spent 9 am to 3 pm at a Children’s Literature Symposium held at my university! In attendance were Heather Bouwman, stupendous author of A Crack in the Sea, Allan Wolf, poet extraordinaire, Alan Gratz, author of The League of Seven, and Donna Washington, world-travelling storyteller. I spent the day absorbing some sweet, sweet knowledge from some amazing teachers. Here are some take-aways from each person:

Heather Bouwman: the heart of a novel is in the story, not the plot. The story is character growth, emotion, and connection to the reader. When you draft, draft the story, not the plot. The way we teach fantasy is not the way we read it–so draft with the reading experience in mind, not analysis and themes. Fantasy allows a temporary escape from which we return stronger and smarter.

Allan Wolf: the importance of interaction with a story, as regards to education (the conference was geared towards educators), and thinking about hard questions through fiction. There are so many ways to engage with fiction.

Alan Gratz: poetry isn’t about reading or writing poetry but rather about seeing the world through a poet’s eyes. See the world as if seeing it for the first time. Once you realize the ordinary is extraordinary, the whole world cracks open for you. Don’t let someone else write your story. And you have to boil a lot of sap to get a little maple syrup.

Donna Washington: story-telling is visual. It is about emotion, expression, voices, and audience participation. To be honest I’m having a hard time putting what I learned from her in words, because I haven’t processed it all yet–it was such a spectacular experience to hear her tell stories.

All in all, it was an amazing day. I have never experienced a story told as amazingly as Donna Washinton told them (she told us three), nor poems recited so enthusiastically as Allan Wolf. It was a privilege to meet H. M. Bouwman, whose book is indescribably beautiful, and I discovered I really need to read Alan Gratz’s books…

The whole day made me more and more excited for the rapidly-approaching Yallfest!

Literary Influences

I am always thinking about how authors have shaped me, as a person and as a writer. Every so often I write a line of dialogue or use a turn of phrase, look at it, and realize that’s not me, it’s another author speaking through me.

I’ve tried to go for non-obvious options (so not Riordan, Colfer, Rowling, Lewis…) and steer towards subtler influences. I find it endlessly fascinating (and a little upsetting) that something which rocked my world to the core didn’t touch another’s life.

Naturally, most of them are concentrated in my childhood, which is why I personally believe MG and YA to be some of the most important literature out there. In no particular order, and with no discrimination towards genre, here are five authors + books to whom I owe quite a bit.

  1. Diane Duane and the Young Wizards Series: the dregs of Duane’s writing will probably be forever apparent in my own, in both tone and theory. I have met one other physical person who has read these books not of my urging, a beloved religious studies professor and kindred spirit.
  2. Wendy Mass and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life: the first realistic fiction book that really made me stop and think dang, that was a good book.
  3. Pat Murphy and The Wild Girls. This book had a level of influence on my life and writing that I cannot quite comprehend. I keep finding plot elements of it that I’ve subconsciously incorporated into my writing. It’s a book about a girl learning to write, which can be hard, but it’s also much, much more than that.
  4. Elizabeth Kay and The Divide series: a cooler feat of magical worldbuilding I have yet to find. The ending devastates me to this day, but in a good way.
  5. Francis Hardinge and Fly by Night: this book was my artistic muse as a child. I really do need to re-read it. I am left with the barest memories of geese, musty books, and a claustrophobic city.

I have of course read more books that have profoundly impacted me, and I hope I never stop meeting them along the way. But childhood books are different. They get you while you’re still malleable, and they change you. It’s kind of magical.

✴This has been a queued post, as I am currently in the Amazon with no Wifi.