Thursday, August 4, 2011

Characters coming to life

One of the most entertaining sessions I attended at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans was one in which several authors who won a Newbery with their first published novel talked about how it changed their lives.

Jennifer Holm, one of the panelists, worked in television broadcasting before eventually turning to writing full-time. She shared a sweet anecdote about a little boy who desperately loved her book Our Only May Amelia. Set in Washington state in the late 1800s, this story of a spirited Finnish American girl in a pioneer family was inspired by the diaries of Holm's great aunt, Alice Amelia, and set in Naselle, Washington, where some of her family remain to this day.

One day, Holm received a phone call from her grandparents, who reported that a little boy from Seattle had shown up asking to meet May Amelia! It was his spring break, and he had persuaded his family to drive him to Naselle, where he asked around about "where May Amelia lives" until he was finally directed to the Holm family farm.

Holm's grandparents took the little boy on a tractor tour of their farm and showed him Alice Amelia's diaries, and gently informed him that May Amelia was a fictional character. This story moved me deeply and was a reminder of how, when young people read, they are often consumed by stories in ways that are difficult to recapture as an adult.

Right now I'm in the middle of listening to a charming audiobook, The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prarie by Wendy McClure. The author recounts her wholehearted childhood belief in a parallel universe in which Laura Ingalls Wilder not only lived on, but could possibly come visit her for a tour of 1970s America! Similarly, The Magician's Book by Laura Miller is an absorbing tour through the author's childhood devotion to the Narnia series.

Sometimes parents worry when young people become consumed by a particular book or series, however, if you think back to your own childhood reading - or read books such as these about childhood reading obsessions - it can be reassuring to remember that this is not only normal and common, but something you may longingly wish to experience later in life!

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