Real

Last year was an especially wonderful one for middle grade fiction. Among the many titles I loved were “The Center of Everything” by Linda Urban, “P.S. Be Eleven” by Rita Williams-Garcia, “The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp” by Kathi Appelt, “The Boy on the Porch”, by Sharon Creech, “A Girl Called Problem”, by Katie Quirk, “Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy” by Karen Foxlee (sneaking that one in since it came out this Janurary). I’m leaving out scads of others, for sure.

“The Real Boy”, by Anne Ursu, hovers near the top of the list. This praise from someone who rarely reads fantasy and who finds plenty of magic and mystery in “real” life, thank you anyway.  Anne’s novel is, among many things, about precisely that: how complicated and treacherous magic can be, and how risky it is to rely on it. The novel’ s voice is questioning and pure, vulnerable and brave,  a true child’s voice, and I envy Anne’s unblinking courage: she shines her light in the darkest, most difficult places.

She gave a talk at the recent Public Library Association conference, and posted it on her blog.  You can read the whole thing here: http://anneursu.tumblr.com/post/79978570546/pla-talk-on-the-voracious-reader-libraries-and-being

I too was a reader long before I knew I was a writer. The two public libraries of my childhood are imprinted on my memory.  I’m jealous of Anne discovering Eager as a child: I had to wait till I had my own kids–not that it’s ever too late for “Half Magic”. But I digress.

One of my favorite parts of her talk is when she describes why she loves writing for middle grade readers:

But mostly, I write for MG because nobody loves a book like a kid loves a book. They need them, and you can tell that by the way they take them into their whole being, absorb them like the blob. It is a privilege to be a part of that, and constant pressure to be worthy of that.

This is a perfect description of how I feel when I visit a school or library.  Stories matter so much to kids.  They lean forward; they stop breathing. What happens to the characters is every bit as real and important as what happens to them.  More than once I’ve mentioned how I got an idea for a story, and given a quick outline of it, then blathered on about too many other things. The instant I call for questions, a hand goes up and someone demands, “So, did Mo have to move out of her house?’ or “Did Phoebe get her digger back?”

What happens next? is a question we ask as soon as we can talk. Why does it happen? is a question we add later on, and it takes on an equal importance. I love Anne’s talk because even as I sit here reading it at my solitary desk, I’m feeling very un-alone.  Making  stories is such a human thing.  Making them for kids is such a responsibility. Such a privilege.  Such a chance to use all you know and find out what you don’t, and then to transform it all into something even more “real”.  I guess that’s a kind of magic, after all.    

*****

As someone who reads and writes and does the occasional book  review, I’m a big fan of SLJ’s annual Battle of the Books. http://blogs.slj.com/battleofthebooks/  It’s a great chance to find out how other avid (okay, sometimes rabid) writers and readers feel about books that garnered a lot of attention over the last year. I love seeing books I’ve read from other, often quite different perspectives, and I always find out about a title or two I overlooked. Check it out.

*****

Some exciting news came my way this week. I was lying on the couch reading when I heard, and no way I could concentrate on my excellent book afterwards. That’s all I’m allowed to say right now!

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