Natalie Babbitt – “dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born”

Natalie Babbitt, award winning author of children’s literature, died Oct. 31 at the age of 84.You may know her book Tuck Everlasting, with Babbitt’s subtle warning about immortality, but have you read any of her others?  

 I plan to remember her with my own binge reading  of:

  • The Search for Delicious
  • Kneeknock Rise
  • The Devil’s Storybook
  • Goody Hall
  • Jack Planke Tells Tales
  • The Something
  • Moon Over High Street

Roald Dahl presented his philosophy of writing at a lecture in 1990. Natalie Babbitt and her wonderful portfolio of children’s books met all the criteria. I will miss her.

“What makes a good children’s writer?

  • must have a genuine and powerful wish not only to entertain children, but to teach them the habit of reading
  • must like simple tricks and jokes and riddles and other childish things
  • must be unconventional and inventive
  • must have a really first-class plot
  •  {tell} stories that contain a threat
  •  {use} new inventions; unorthodox methods; eccentricity; secret information
  •  know what enthralls children: action, suspense, being spooked, finding treasures, ghosts, chocolates and toys and money, magic, being made to giggle, seeing the villain meet a grisly death, {seeing}the hero be a winner
  •  know what bores children: descriptive passages and flowery prose

Your story, therefore, must tantalize and titillate on every page and all the time that you are writing you must be saying to yourself ‘Is this too slow? Is it dull? Will they stop reading?’ …{If your answer is yes}, you must cross it out and start again.”

The Book With No Pictures

9780803741713_p0_v2_s192x300If you ever need a book to read aloud – to a group of children, to a grandchild, to yourself on a crummy day – B.J.Novak’s The Book With No Pictures is the one.

“Here is how books work,” the hidden narrator confides. “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. No matter what.” The (presumably adult) reader is made to sing, emit nonsense sounds, praise the child who is being read to, and say things like “I am a monkey who taught myself to read.”

The book uses words to create effect with no illustrations – not one.  Some of the crazy words remind me of Lily Tomlin’s wild chanting in “Grace and Frankie” – not the kind of sounds usually coming out of a book – but fun to enunciate.  Read it out loud and laugh at yourself.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

9780763681173_p0_v1_s192x300 Kate DiCamillo abandons her animal friends and creates an unlikely heroine in her newest book Raymie Nightingale.  At first I was disappointed in the trio of ordinary young girls who become friends one summer.  Where was the brave mouse of Desperaux, the china rabbit with a soul in Edward Tulane, the typing squirrel in Flora and Ulysses.

Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana find each other at a baton-twirling class; all are planning to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition and each has a reason for needing to win.  Unknowingly, the three have more in common than the contest; each is missing a parent or two and not only trying to cope with the loss, but also yearning to get back to what was before.

Although Raymie never does learn how to twirl the baton, she channels Florence Nightingale from the book her school librarian gave her for  the summer, and finds she can do the extraordinary – save a friend from drowning.  With the help of Beverly’s street smarts and Louisiana’s flighty sensitivity, Raymie gets back her soul.

Animals do appear in the story – a yellow bird set free from its cage, a howling rabbit eared dog rescued from a dismal fate at the animal shelter, and Archie, Louisiana’s back from the dead cat – the unsung hero of the book.  DiCamillo uses them to underline the theme of loss and renewal.

DiCamillo delivers a poignant tale of little girls who are brave and hopeful, but the story is really all about the power of connection and the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Reviews of Other Books by Kate DiCamillo:

Children’s Books by Weighty Authors

After reading Alexandra Alter’s front page article for the Sunday New York Times – “Masters of Prose, Warming Up to Picture Books” – I thought about authors who have managed both adult and children’s books successfully.

Roald Dahl, famous for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and whose children’s book The BFG  (big friendly giant) is coming out in film soon, first attracted me with his short stories about World War II (Dahl was a fighter pilot in the war) with their eerie endings.  Dahl’s “Beware of the Dog ” is one of my favorites – you can read it here.

Alter’s article mentions famous authors crossing over into writing children’s books, including Jane Smiley, Calvin Trillin, and Elena Ferrante. James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and James Baldwin are also mentioned. I’m looking forward to reading Trillin’s funny book of poetry for children and the elusive Ferrante’s scary book.

Here is a list of the titles:

James Baldwin’s Little Man Little Man

Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night BN-ND310_FERRAN_DV_20160317134312

James Joyce’s The Cat and the Devil

Jane Smiley’s Twenty Yawns

NoFair-NoFair-coverCalvin Trillin’s No Fair No Fair  with illustrations by Roz Chast)

John Updike’s A Child’s Calendar

Kurt Vonnegut’s Sun Moon Star

And did you know Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the story of a magical car made famous by Disney, was written by Ian Fleming – the creator of James Bond stories?

Beverly Cleary at 100

Thank you, Frank Bruni, for reminding me of Beverly Cleary’s birthday on Tuesday, April 12th, in today’s New York Times Sunday Review article.  

When librarian Cleary introduced Ramona in her first book,Henry Huggins, in 1950, she created a fan base now extending to well-known artists today, including Kate DiCamillo, Judy Blume, and Amy Poehler, who wrote introductions to recent re-releases of three of Cleary’s books – Ramona Quimby, Age 8; The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and Henry Huggins.

character_ramona_starI’ve always identified with the feisty, irreverent Ramona who always has a question, because as Cleary noted in the interview: “I was a well-behaved girl, but I often thought like Ramona.”

In her interview, Beverly Cleary’s wise note hit a chord with me:

“As a child, I very much objected to books that tried to teach me something.  I just wanted to read for pleasure, and I did. But if a book tried to teach me, I returned it to the library.”

When we read books or discuss them, is it always necessary to dissect them?  As Robert Frost said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”  

Children’s books offer a welcome relief in reading, and you don’t have to be a child to enjoy them.  If you are fan of Beverly Cleary books, now is a good time to get reacquainted. Ramona the Pest is my favorite – what’s yours?

9780061960901_p0_v4_s192x300If you somehow missed meeting Ramona in Cleary’s books, it’s not too late.

 

I have more to say about Beverly Cleary: