In My Library

Summoned by Books

“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). [1]

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.

The quote I opened with came from an essay included in the book, “Writing for Children: a Responsibility and an Art” published in 1950. In it Sayers encourages writers not to be concerned with the studies of mass marketers, education theorists, or child psychologists, lest their writing becomes scientific, sterile, and prescribed. Instead she reminds writers for children to write for their true audience (children) and to be an artist–adding feeling to the experiences, themes, and insights they mean to convey. For “only by art are the emotions touched, revived and educated”.

I’ll close with another quote that sums it up nicely, this one from a 1942 essay:

“The first requisite of the artist who hopes for lasting acclaim from children is that he feels himself under compulsion to translate his own conviction, born of emotion and experience, into terms which children can understand.”

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