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“Art is…a controlled fury of desire to share one’s private revelation of life.”
It was this quote of Frances Clarke Sayers that led me to pick up Summoned By Books. I wanted to hear more, in context.
Sayers was a protégée of Anne Carroll Moore. She began her career under Moore’s librarianship, followed her as the New York Public Library’s children’s librarian, and took up the mantle after Moore against the “vulgarities” that threatened children’s stories (such as Disney films, new theories in education, and progressive books like those put out by Harper). 
In this collection of her essays and speeches, Sayers spoke in minor on threats to the field, in major about the attributes that make for quality literature, and on both with great passion. I appreciated her full-career perspective on the makings of a good book (stories with vitality born of observation, convincing characters, immediacy with no touch of nostalgia, genuine sympathy and conviction on behalf of the author, and a facility of storytelling – rhythm, cadence, pacing and delivery).
But most importantly, good books, containing those “private revelations of life”, should awaken us, challenge us, and change us.
Year to year in various places with various themes, various people get together to discuss what unifyingly has a hold on them — children’s books.
The annual convocations are put on by Children’s Literature New England, an organization whose mission is to “examine topics in literature and to give those who teach and create books for young readers the opportunity to reaffirm the value of their work”.  They want to think about and celebrate children’s books together.
In this book, Origins of Story, CLNE board members Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire present a collection of presentations from past institutes, all by authors. Because of the variety there is no doubt something in the book for everyone.
I flipped through the pages to recall some of the highlights for me. I was mostly noting those general, overarching comments — how authors spend time seeing the world foremost, and then (with much labor) write their reflections vividly and with meaning.
As a timid want-to-be writer, I found this thought by Madeleine L’Engle particularly encouraging: “Perfectionism, like consumerism, is one of the great cripplers. If I have to do something perfectly I’ll probably not do it at all, in case I fail. Maybe it’s a good thing I was such a failure as a schoolchild, because accepting failure has freed me to take risks…it’s human to be fallible…what I learn from is my mistakes, not the things I do right.” (pg. 109)
List of authors represented in the collection:
Gillian Cross, Sharon Creech, Maurice Sendak, Sarah Ellis, Gregory Maguire, Susan Cooper, Pat O’Shea, Betty Levin, Tom Feelings, John Rowe Townsend, Madeleine L’Engle, Virginia Hamilton, Jill Paton Walsh, Barbara Harrison, Margaret Mahy, Ursula Le Guin, Katherine Paterson
I took an unexpected trip to Latvia this summer. My sister and brother-in-law are adopting, and I was asked to join them on a trip to visit the children. I’ll let you to imagine the heartwrenches of visiting an orphanage.
On my way out the door to my flight I grabbed Paterson’s Invisible Child off my bookshelf for travel reading, and it turned out to be a timely choice. Katherine Paterson’s fiction for children has looked hard in the face that this world groans; everything is not all right here (see her books Bridge to Terabithia, or The Great Gilly Hopkins for instance).
In this collection of speeches and essays she reflects on her career and what moves her to do the kind of writing that she does. For all the lonely, misunderstood, despised, the fearful, for those longing for approval and love, for those deeply wounded and looking for hope – these are the children to whom Katherine writes. In other words humans (be it young ones). But for all their hurts, there is meaning in the universe; she wants her readers to know that, and perhaps by means of a story she can help them see it.
I recently read through a series of interviews conducted by historian/critic Leonard Marcus in Ways of Telling and Show Me a Story. In the conversations with the artists he aims to explore the link between their life stories and the picture books they created. Ways of Telling, first printed in 2002, was republished 10 years later as Show Me a Story, which includes 10 additional interviews with artists Quentin Blake and Kevin Henkes among others.
I read Ways of Telling first, and the remaining interviews in Show Me a Story second. Perhaps it is only my perception, but I felt the first published interviews, when talking of work, spoke of purpose and artistic conventions; whereas the later trended to a discussion on style.
Sendak’s, Marshall’s, and Zolotow’s conversations were the most informative to me. I appreciated their attention to audience (being a guide to children to help them understand their world), their sensitivity to capturing correct emotional tone, and some of the off-the-cuff tips on illustrative device.
A happy revision was made to the color plates in the second printing; process work was shown instead of final art. It is a rare treat to see behind the scenes of a creative work, and it wedded nicely to Marcus’s goal of threading life and story. I loved seeing James Marshall’s sketches next to his to–do list.
All in all, a fan read for picture book lovers.
List of Artist Interviews:
October 21, 1988 – Iona Opie (age 65)
April 22, 1989 – Mitsumasa Anno (age 63)
May 24, 1989 – James Marshall (age 47)
November 6, 1989 – Helen Oxenbury (age 51)
February 11, 1991 – Robert McCloskey (age 77)
June 14, 1993 – Maurice Sendak (age 65)
July 14, 1994 – William Steig (age 64)
July 28, 1994 – Eric Carle (age 65)
August 27, 1997 – Tana Hoban (age 80)
October 23, 1998 – Charlotte Zolotow (age 83)
September 23, 1999 – Karla Kuskin (age 67)
October 18, 1999 – Rosemary Wells (age 56)
October 27, 1999 – Jerry Pinkney (age 60)
October 30, 1999 – Ashley Bryan (age 76)
Post 1993 – Lois Ehlert (age 59)
July 23, 2009 – Peter Sis (age 60)
July 24, 2009 – Chris Raschka (age 50)
September 18, 2009 – Yumi Heo (age 45)
November 11, 2009 – Quentin Blake (age 77)
November 6, 2009 – Lisbeth Zwerger (age 55)
November 9, 2009 – Vera B. Williams (age 82)
November 25, 2009 -Kevin Henkes (age 49)
December 2, 2009 – Mo Willems (age 41)
December 21, 2009 – John Burningham (age 73)