May 28th, 2012

Awakened by Margaret

Recently I had the delightful opportunity to teach a picture book writing workshop to some high school students in St. Catharines.  It was a great deal of fun, the students seemed to enjoy themselves, and no one threw rocks at me.

I started the class with some (hopefully) inspiring quotes about writing picture books by some well-known authors, and decided to end the session with a rather long, but (in my opinion) very inspiring quote about the writing of Margaret Wise Brown. In reading this piece to the class, I was hoping to instill in them a desire to strive for this kind of quality of writing, as well as an understanding that writing good picture books is a special gift, worthy of respect. I got rather choked up while reading this aloud, and even now when I read it, I get chills all over. It’s from the introduction of Awakened by the Moon, a wonderful biography of children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown, written by Leonard S. Marcus:

I first became aware of Margaret Wise Brown’s work a few years after graduation, while browsing in a New York bookshop where copies of Goodnight Moon were stacked high on a table. As I read the book for the first time, unaware of the author’s legendary status within her field (or indeed anything about her) I was forcibly struck by the realization that the quietly compelling words I was saying over in my head were poetry and, what was more, poetry of a kind I prized: accessible but not predictable, emotional but purged of sentiment, vivid but so spare that every word felt necessary. Her words seemed to be rooted in the concrete but touched by an appreciation of the elusive, the paradoxical, the mysterious. There was astonishing tenderness and authority in the voice, and something mythic in it as well. It was as though the author had just now seen the world for the first time, and had chosen to honor it by taking its true measure in words.

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