You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

Not that I know this from personal experience. But Neil Gaiman does, because he got woken up on Monday with that very good news. And in typically generous form, he shared it on his blog.

I’ve always thought it would be very cool to win a Newbery. I don’t know that it would necessarily surpass winning a Pulitzer, or the sainted Nobel for Literature, but the fun thing about a Newbery Medal is that it means both kids and adults will be discovering your book for generations to come. Newbery books stay in print pretty much forever, they always carry the medal imprint on their covers, and grandparents like me will buy them for Christmas presents because they feel anything is better for the kiddies  than another Goosebumps book. 

I actually do buy my granddaughter each year’s Newbery winner for Christmas. She’s only five, and so far her father has only read her one of those books for a bedtime story: Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux.  (The Despereaux movie was too scary for her to see, and Daddy adroitly edited the scariest part of the book as he read, but she loved the story, just as I had.)

This past October, Isabella got a little brother, Alex, so I started a new tradition. Every year, Alex gets the Caldecott Medal winner for Christmas. The Caldecott’s given for the best illustrated children’s book. This year it happened to be a book I already knew and loved: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was both written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. 

There has been a lot written lately about how Newbery books tend to be chosen by librarians whose literary tastes don’t coincide with children’s, how the medal books just aren’t accessible enough for kids to read with real enthusiasm.  I have to admit I wondered a bit about the Newbery Medal book that Isabella got for Christmas this year: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz. It’s written in the form of 22 short monologues, is set in England circa 1255, and is not the easiest read even for an adult. There’s some fairly gross stuff in there about a kid helping to deliver farm animals, for example. But it’s got both  writerly imagination and the stink of historical reality about it, making us realize that medieval life wasn’t all just storybook knights and ladies.

I am grateful to the Newbery because it helped launch the career of my favorite childhood author, Elizabeth Enright. She won for Thimble Summer in 1939, but she then went on to write my great favorites: her four novels about the Melendy Family, and her Gone-Away Lake books. She also wrote many wonderful short stories for adults that were later republished in four collections. 

But it’s worth noting that one of the world’s favorite children’s books was not a Newbery Medal book. It was a Newbery Honor book, the runner-up to that yeat’s medalist. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is a very nearly perfect book about life, friendship and the enormous power of words. I still can’t read the ending without choking up.

Not too many people these days read the Newbery Medal book for 1953, Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark. But Charlotte and her web have become immortal, proving that sometimes readers — not judges’ committees — do know best.

Advertisements

I was sad to pick up the newspaper this morning and read that actor Patrick McGoohan had died yesterday at age 80. (Yes, believe it or not, I still get some of my news first from the morning paper.)

I was, and still am, a big fan of  The Prisoner, the late ’60s cult-classic TV series for which McGoohan was both creator and star. I remember watching the series as a teenager, and later re-watching it as a young adult, marveling not only at the  twisty plotting and clever dialogue but at the fantastic setting of The Village, where McGoohan’s character, a kidnapped secret agent, was being kept as a prisoner known only as Number Six.

For a long time, I thought that The Village was some amazing cinematic set constructed just for McGoohan’s show, rather as Robert Altman had constructed a town in Malta as the set for his film Popeye. Only later did I discover that The Village is a real place: the fairytale resort of Portmeirion, on the coast of Wales. I resolved long ago to go to Portmeirion on some future vacation. And though I haven’t made it there yet, I still hold out hope that the journey could happen someday.

So many bits of The Prisoner are imprinted on my brain, although I haven’t viewed the series in years. The driving, pulsating theme music; the cool car McGoohan drives in London, a vintage Lotus roadster with the very British licence plate of “KAR 120C”; his awakening to the surreal world of The Village, where everyone dresses nicely and wears a badge bearing their number; the Prisoner’s defiant rant, “I am not a number! I am a free man!”; the deferential dwarf butler; the tall guy who looks like an undertaker; the Village’s omnipresent symbol of the penny-farthing bicycle; the bureaucratic “new Number Two” saying, “By hook or by crook, we will”; the mystery of Number One; “Be seeing you”; and the ominous watchdog Rover, a giant balloon-like bubble that chases and envelopes anyone who tries to escape.  I swear that I have had nightmares about that Rover.

When I went online to read more about McGoohan’s passing, I discovered that the cable channel AMC is making a new version of the series, starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen. This, of course, seems like complete heresy — but I’m cautiously hoping to be pleasantly surprised when I actually see the series.

Meanwhile, I also discovered that AMC is doing us the enormous favor of streaming all 17 episodes of the original Prisoner on its website.  Go check them out.

And, oh yes… be seeing you.

It’s been just over two months since I was laid off from the newspaper. In the meantime, we’ve nearly gotten through another round of holidays, and now it’s New Year’s Eve again.

When 2008 began, I had no idea that by the time it ended, I’d be drawing unemployment benefits and wondering what the next act of my life might be. In that first week or month, everyone I knew who had ever been through a similar crisis echoed the same words: In a year or two, you’ll look back and think this was the best thing that ever happened to you. 

In some ways, I’m already feeling they may be right.

I have come to think of this as my permanent sabbatical. Not a vacation, not a punishment: simply a stage of life where I can do only the work I want to do, rather than the work I must do. Nobody is my boss, and only I can decide what assignments I will take. Anything I choose to do as a freelancer, I do on contract.

Several such opportunities now are presenting themselves for the new year, and I will be happy to try them out. I’m fortunate because I needn’t work unless I want to — or so my husband Steve, aka my personal financial wizard, informs me. But I like to write, and people still seem to want me to write, so I think I’ll keep doing it for pay now and then. It is, after all, the only thing I am actually qualified to do.

The funny thing is that, even without paid work to do, I haven’t been a bit bored.  I have had time to do things I like to do, or need to do, or want to do. On some days I might do nothing much at all — and after 31-plus years of working full-time, that’s been a lovely luxury. Better than a day at the spa, truly.

Read the rest of this entry »