The Magician's Book by Laura Miller
December 2008, Little, Brown
The Magician's Book, which details Miller's reconciliation with Narnia, is a thoughtful and heartfelt book, and her exploration of the Chronicles resonates with me as much as the books themselves once did. She discovers that Narnia is big enough to contain not just the adventures she loved as a child, and not just the Christian themes that now appear obvious, but a whole world full of stories and wildness, bravery and treachery, ancient myths and Santa Claus; that loving Narnia allowed her to love all the stories it contained, referenced or built upon, and thus opened up untold worlds.
To me, the best children's books gave their child characters (and by extension, myself) the chance to be taken seriously. In Narnia, the boundary between childhood and adulthood—a vast tundra of tedious years—could be elided. The Pevensies not only get to topple the White Witch, fight in battles, participate in an earthshaking mystical event, and be crowned kings and queens; they do it all without having to grow up. Yet they become more than children, too. Above all, their decisions have moral gravity. In contrast to how most children experience their role in an adult world, what the child characters in these stories do, for better or for worse, really matters, and nowhere more so than in Edmund's betrayal.
. . . To the adult skeptic, the evident Christianity of the Chronicles makes their morality seem pat, the all-too-familiar stuff of tiresome, didactic tales. . . . But that's an illusion, fostered by an adult's resistance to what appears to be religious proselytizing. True, Lewis does populate Narnia with semiallegorical figures who represent eternal aspects of human nature in addition to more realistic characters like the Pevensies. The White Witch is bad through and through, almost as uncomplicated as a fairy-tale villain. But she's not the moral ground on which the story's moral battle is fought. Edmund is.
What are you reading today?
On January 18, Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me, a middle-grade novel that’s part mystery, part touching family comedy. The plot centers on Miranda, a sixth grade New Yorker who saves her friend’s life; preps her mom to appear on a game show; and holds down a part-time job at the neighborhood sandwich shop. Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time will love this book; Miranda carries it around, and time travel figures into the story.
Because we couldn’t imagine the excitement Stead felt upon learning of the award, we contacted her for an e-mail Q&A. Below, she describes the moment of receiving a call from the Newbery committee, growing up in New York City and why she writes for kids.
Describe the moment when you were awarded the Newbery Medal.
I was standing in the kitchen of my apartment. [Chair of the Newbery committee] Katie O’Dell introduced herself on the phone and then said something like, “I’m about to tell you something that will change your life.” I think that’s when my feet fused to the floor. She had the whole committee on speaker phone, and there was this wonderful cheer. I couldn’t seem to move. I remember Katie saying, “it’s okay, you don’t have to talk.” But I hope I managed to tell them how grateful I felt—still feel.
What were your favorite books to read as a child and teenager?
I loved all kinds of fiction. I read books by Edward Eager, Madeleine L’Engle, E.L. Konigsburg, Judy Blume, Norma Klein, Bette Greene, Paula Danziger, Anne McCaffrey, Louise Meriwether, Robert Heinlein and Louise Fitzhugh. I also loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales, D’Aulaire’s Myths and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-kind Family books.
What do your children read today?
My sons read a lot of fantasy, including Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books. But they also love the Hank Zipzer books, Hillary McKay’s Casson Family novels, Judy Blume’s Fudge books, and many others.
When did you first read A Wrinkle in Time? At what point did you decide to feature the novel in your own book?
I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was 11 or 12. My main character, Miranda, was carrying the book around from day one, but I wasn’t sure for a long time that it would be part of my final story. Wendy [Lamb] and I talked about that, and decided that I would try to deepen the connection between the two books. If it seemed to work, wonderful. If not, I would have to take Wrinkle out.
What’s the best part of writing books aimed at a younger audience?
Middle-grade kids are blossoming intellectually, and they’re less jaded than adults. I think they’re more open to big ideas. Also, kids generally root for a story to succeed, and they’re willing to do what I call “the reader’s work.” I find it much easier to write knowing that I have them for partners.
What were your favorite things to do as a kid growing up in New York City?
Eat Chinese food, see plays, go skateboarding, eat pizza, go ice skating and read. We used to have great block parties in New York City, and I loved those too. I also watched a heck of a lot of television.
Miranda’s mother appears on “The $20,000 Pyramid.” If you could go on any game show, which would it be?
I would be terrified to be on any game show, because I don’t like being put on the spot. But if I had to go on one, it would absolutely be Pyramid.
Do you identify with any specific character in When You Reach Me?
Miranda. Her brain works the way my brain worked at her age.
Have you read or listened to past Newbery acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I’ve read a couple of past speeches in The Horn Book, but that was before I ever dreamed I might be writing a speech myself. I’m excited. And worried.
I’m working on another novel for children. It’s unrelated to either of my first two books, and it’s coming together pretty slowly. I have a feeing that lots of people will write three books before I finish this one.
And a question for readers: What's your favorite Newbery winner?
There are a few narrators that stick out in my mind as being foundational personalities in my tween identity: Claudia Kincaid, Meg Murry, Vicky Austin, Polly O'Keefe, Margaret Simon, Harriet Welsch, Sal Hiddle. . . the list goes on.
When I recently finished Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, the winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal, I felt like I had met a girl who deserves a spot on that list of superstars: Miranda, the spirited protagonist of Stead’s novel, named for both Miranda warnings and Miranda of “The Tempest.” Miranda is a natural fit between Claudia (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) and Meg (A Wrinkle in Time). She is savvy on the streets of New York City, curious, thoughtful—but not without a bit of attitude, interested in time travel.
Her story takes place in the late 1970s, but young readers today will identify with her life. When the novel beings, Miranda is helping her single mom, a paralegal who wears funky tights and blue nail polish, study to win big on “The $20,000 Pyramid.” In an opening funny moment, Miranda explains that she’s creating study guides for her mom “instead of watching after-school TV, which is a birthright of every latchkey child.”
Over the course of Stead’s 200-page middle-grade novel, Miranda deals with changing friendships, bullying, racial prejudice directed toward a classmate, a first crush, different income levels within her school—all while solving a mystery that could save her friend’s life. There are clues sprinkled throughout the book, not least of all Miranda’s love for A Wrinkle in Time, which she carries around and reads compulsively.
In a review for BookPage, Dean Schneider summed up the merits of When You Reach Me: “What could be better: a great setting, believable characters and a mystery deftly woven by a fine writer.” He couldn’t be more right. Read the book and see for yourself.
What characters will you always remember from childhood favorites?
What an exciting day for children’s literature.
This morning the American Library Association announced the Youth Media Awards winners at the Midwinter Meeting in Boston.
On January 5, BookPage reviewer and 2008 Newbery Committee member Dean Schneider shared his awards predictions with us, and he was almost startlingly on target. As he predicted, Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me and Jerry Pinkney won the Caldecott Medal for The Lion & The Mouse.
In a July 2009 review for BookPage, Schneider wrote of When You Reach Me: "What could be better: a great setting, believable characters and a mystery deftly woven by a fine writer. This is a book to be reckoned with come Newbery season."
Schneider was equally exuberant about The Lion & The Mouse upon its publication in September, writing: "Jerry Pinkney’s latest picture book is an absolutely gorgeous example of book making and pictorial storytelling, a wordless book readers will 'read' over and over again, each time noticing new treasures in the pictures."
Newbery Honors went to Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose; The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick.
Caldecott Honors were awarded to All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee and written by Liz Garton Scanlon; and Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski and written by Joyce Sidman.
Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal won the Coretta Scott King (Author) book Award. Bad News for Outlaws was written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.
My People won the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award. My People was illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr. and written by Langston Hughes.
Click here for a complete list of winners and tell us why you agreed or disagreed with this year’s honored books.
Katherine Paterson, the recently-appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and two-time winner of the National Book Award and Newbery Medal, has some news. And we have a long time to get excited about it. Candlewick Press has announced the publication of her middle grade novel, The Flint Heart. The novel will be released in March. . . 2012.
I suppose that Candlewick announced the novel’s release so early in order to piggyback on Paterson’s National Ambassador press. What do you think? Is it effective to build buzz two years early?
In any case, I’m excited for the release, which will be a retelling of Eden Phillpotts’ 1910 “fantastical cautionary tale” of the same title (which is available for free online).
Paterson will co-write with her husband, John Paterson. John Rocco, who worked as the pre-production art director for the movie Shrek, will illustrate.
Related in BookPage: Read a review of Katherine Paterson’s The Same Stuff as Stars.
This just in: Louis Sachar has signed with Delacorte to publish his first YA novel since 2006's Small Steps. The new book, which will be out on May 11, 2010, is called The Cardturner and was inspired by Sachar's own love of bridge. In the novel, 17-year-old Alton is forced to accompany his uncle to a weekly bridge game and discovers a love of cards and a neighborhood girl. He also realizes his wealthy uncle has a secret.
I loved Sachar's Wayside School series as a preteen. Somehow it is reassuring to know that another generation of kids are getting their own dose of Sachar's inimitable imagination.
Related in BookPage: our 2006 interview with Louis Sachar on Small Steps
Since we seem to be on a children’s/YA lit roll, I’ve got another news item to pile on the list. (Don’t worry: We haven’t forgotten about the grownup stuff!)
Beloved YA novelist and Newbery Medalist Katherine Paterson, the author of Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved and many others, has today been named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. She succeeds Jon Scieszka.
According to the Library of Congress, “The position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” Paterson will serve a two-year term. The focus of her tenure will be “read for your life." (We can get behind that mission!)
In reviewing the book The Same Stuff as Stars, Dean Schneider gives us a glimpse at Paterson’s ability to use books to stretch children’s imaginations and boost their spirits: “[Main character Angel] feels part of the grander scheme of the universe. Just as adults became her guides, so do the stars, and she feels that maybe she, too, might take her lead from those beaming celestial bodies. No matter what other people did or failed to do, you could try yourself to be something like Polaris, shining strong and bright and fixed in a swirling world of darkness.”
Why do you think Paterson will make a great Ambassador for Yong People’s Literature?
On New Year’s Eve, BSC publisher Scholastic distributed a press release with information about The Summer Before. The book will be about, well, the summer before the Baby-Sitter’s Club was founded, detailing a time when four tweens are “on the edge of something big—not just the club that will change their lives, but also the joys and tribulations of being a girl.”
Scholastic hopes the prequel will renew interest in the whole series, and they will also re-release paperbacks of some of the original books, starting with Kristy’s Great Idea. So kids raised on Wii and Webkinz can relate to the books, certain anachronisms (“cassette player”; “perm”) will be updated.
In a recent article from the New York Times, the words “rabid passion” are used to describe the relationship between The BSC and its fans, and I understand. Although I didn’t read all 213 titles of Ann M. Martin’s series, I probably read 100—and I modeled aspects of my life after Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey. (I wanted Kristy’s athletic ability; Mary Anne’s boyfriend/organizational skills; Claudia’s jewelry; and Stacey’s clothes.) Not only were the girls in the series fun, entrepreneurial and relatable. They also dealt with issues like not fitting in at school, arguing with friends, divorce and diabetes. And they resonated with a lot of kids. Baby-Sitters Club books have sold 176 million copies.
What do readers think? Will The Summer Before be a hit? Will passionate fans jump to revisit Kristy and the gang, or is it better not to tamper with a series that’s already great?
What’s your favorite book from the series? I was always partial to the “Super Specials,” especially Super Special #5: California Girls! ("Who would believe it—the Baby-sitters have won the lottery! And with their winning money, the girls are all going with Dawn to... California!") Which girl were you? (I was a Mary Anne/Claudia hybrid, if that's possible.)
Related in BookPage: Read a review of Everything for a Dog, Ann M. Martin’s recent children’s book.
With the announcement of the American Library Association's children's and teen book awards coming up soon (on January 18), it's prediction season in the children's book world. English teacher and children’s book reviewer extraordinaire Dean Schneider, a member of the 2008 Newbery Committee, shares some of his predictions, a number of which he reviewed for BookPage:
Newbery Medal: When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)
Newbery Honors: Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary (Elizabeth Partridge); Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Philip M. Hoose); The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Jacqueline Kelly)
Caldecott Medal: The Lion & The Mouse (Jerry Pinkney)
Caldecott Honors: All the World (Elizabeth Garton Scanlon)
Printz Medal: Marcelo in the Real World (Francisco X. Stork)
Printz Honors: Lips Touch by Laini Taylor; Fire (Kristin Cashore)
Sibert Medal: Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Deborah Heiligman)
Sibert Honors: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Philip M. Hoose); Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary (Elizabeth Partridge); Truce (Jim Murphy); A Savage Thunder: Antietam and the Bloody Road to Freedom (Jim Murphy)
Do you have any other predictions? Also, be sure to bookmark the Children's Page on BookPage.com. In the bottom left corner, we highlight award winners from the past. This week we're featuring 2006 Caldecott Honor Book Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier.
This morning I came across a book trailer for Dr. Cuthbert Soup’s debut YA novel, A Whole Nother Story (the book came out a couple weeks ago). The trailer cracked me up, and I thought you might enjoy something silly to kick off your week:
If you're a Lemony Snicket fan, I think Dr. Cuthbert Soup, who has a similar mysterious persona, will hit the spot. Here’s a preview of his writing, from a behind-the-book essay in BookPage:
I had my motivation but did I have a story to tell and, more importantly, would my story be worthy of that coveted slot between War and Peace and Wart Removal For Dummies? After all, the last thing I wanted was to write a book that would find itself lying on a table beneath a sign reading, “Books for under three dollars” or” Books: twelve cents a pound” or “Free kindling.” Actually the last thing I wanted was to be eaten alive by a swarm of larger-than-average ants. Still, authoring an uninteresting book was fairly high on the list of things I did not want to happen.