Looking Back and looking forward

Smith Corona Sterling c. 1952
Photo by mpclemens

Just in case anyone was wondering if I’d forgotten Lois Lowry somehow in my other post about Newbery authors – rest assured, I had already planned to mention her in a post of her own.

Last week, I picked up a book I’d never heard of, an early novel of two-time Newbery-Award winner Lois Lowry called Find A Stranger, Say Goodbye.  I enjoyed it, though not as much as her later work.  The Giver, for which Lowry won her second Newbery Award, is one of my favorites; another is the book I read Quinland tonight, Lowry’s pictorial biography, Looking Back.  She did not want to listen when I told her it was biographical – who are these teachers who have made my child dislike social studies and biographies? I need to have a few words with them – but she loved it, as I knew she would.  We will certainly be referring to Modest Storewrecker for the foreseeable future.

Googling around for information about the publication date of Find A Stranger, Say Goodbye, I ended up at Lois Lowry’s website and discovered her 1994 Newbery acceptance speech.  I loved it (though I wanted to edit it for typos and send her a clean copy) and began to read through all the speeches she has posted on her website.  I wish there were a hundred more; I’d read them all.  Lowry makes many references to her own life in her speeches, which is what inspired me to pull out and read Looking Back this morning, and to pull it out again tonight when Q asked me to read her a story.

One of Lowry’s speeches, Wondering Where Everything Went, is about accumulating possessions and shedding them throughout one’s life.  Sound familiar?  After looking back with Lois Lowry this week, I am looking forward to the continuation of this journey to release my excess, as well as to my future journey as a writer.

  • {Clutter} released: Seven books, a fork, a broken flashlight, and two full cans of yard debris.  I also returned a number of items to their proper owners.
  • {Perfectionism} released:  Two of the books I let go of today were Little Women and The Long Winter.  I have all the Little House books in hardcover, but my Long Winter didn’t match the rest of my set, as it did not have a paper dust jacket.  I picked up another copy at Powell’s but a) the dust jacket was damaged and b) it was a first edition of the Garth Williams-illustrated set (you’d think this would be good, but no, I want the books of my youth, the 70s Roger Lea McBride reprinting).  I agonized over continuing to keep both imperfect books, but finally decided to get rid of the 70s one and keep the one from the 50s.  I have been trying to do this for years.  As for Little Women: I have a collection of different hardcover printings of that book, and I decided today that I did not need to keep a cheap paperback copy around as well.

Books on writing books

Writing Assignment - Publishing / Reflections
Photo by Enokson

Only a small percentage of the books I own are fiction.  The vast majority, as noted in the post on Aspirational Clutter, are non-fiction, books that are meant to improve my life somehow or to impart their most fascinating tidbits of information to the corners of my brain.  Here in my office, the books have three main themes: finances; success (of many sorts); and fiction writing.

Fiction writing?  Didn’t I just say I don’t even read fiction?  Oh, but I do, just not fiction written for adults!  Many years ago (more than twenty, in fact) when I began teaching elementary school, I began a mission to own every Newbery Award and Newbery Honor book I could.  Some, sadly, are out of print, but I probably have 75% of them by now.  (I’m behind on the current books because I use them as birthday and Christmas gift suggestions.)  These books are excellent literature for all ages, doomed to be missed by many adults due to the simple fact that they have a child or a teenager as the protagonist.

I have my favorite Newbery authors, and many of them have won the award numerous times.  Laura Ingalls Wilder received the Newbery Honor five times for her later Little House books.  Russell Freedman has won once and received three Newbery Honors for his historical photojournalism books.  Elizabeth George Speare won two Newbery Awards and a Newbery Honor, as has Katherine Paterson.  Jerry Spinelli has one of each, as do Karen Cushman, Cynthia Voight and Susan Cooper.  Voight and Cooper have each written a favorite series of mine: Voight’s Tillerman Cycle and Cooper’s Dark is Rising Series.

Why all this talk of children’s books and their authors?  Well…  I would like to be one of them.  I’d like to write a children’s/young adult series that wins a Newbery Medal or two.  How’s that for ambition, considering I haven’t a story to my name?  I have been stockpiling books that are going to help me to write, when I know that all I need to do is actually write. I’m going to need to release most of these books, join a writing group, and get to work.  Kate DiCamillo once said that she never wants to write, but she forces herself to write two pages a day, and she is glad she did it once it’s over.

On Mother’s Day a year or two ago, Karen Cushman gave a talk at a local bookstore.  She had brought along her Newbery Medal, and I got to hold it.  It gave me chills.  I told her I wanted to win one, and she perked up and said, “Oh! Are you an author?”

I said, “Not yet, but I will be.”

  • {Body Fat} released: Good workout with Charles yesterday.  First time lifting weights in a while, so we took it slow and kept cool.
  • {Clutter} released: Two small storage lockers, 7 three-ring binders, a pile of maze books, a couple of handwriting workbooks, a bag of Hot Wheels track and a ramp for a remote-controlled car.  Quinland and I have been working on converting her old playroom to a scrapbook room for the two of us to share.