Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Arnold Hanger Lives!

One of my very favorite moments ever in children's literature has got to be the author visit in Jane Gardam's A Long Way from Verona, in which young Jessica Vye is transformed by (fictional) writer Arnold Hanger's lecture at her prim, proper, pre-World-War-II British girls' school. After Hanger has spoken and read aloud from all kinds of books, one after another, "poetry and all sorts," he seems to be done, and the Head is just about to sweep him off for tea when he suddenly turns and bellows at the startled girls: "To Hell with school!" he hollers. "To Hell with school! English is what matters! ENGLISH IS LIFE!"

Jessica, of course, is never the same. It would ruin it for you if I gave too much away. (I know, the book is long out of print in this country, and hard to find, but damned if I'm going to spoil it. Go on! Protest! Storm the publishers in your quest to find out what happens! Buy it from amazon.uk! This one should be out there!) Suffice it to say that Jessica emerges from the incident and its aftermath convinced that she is "a writer beyond all possible doubt," and that this certainty drives the novel and Jessica's life thereafter.

While George Shannon didn't do anything that transgressive during his visit today (and I suppose that if he had I would have been in the unenviable position of the scandalized Head at Jessica's school), he did manage to fire up the kids about writing and literature in general. Jaded 6th and 7th graders who wouldn't be caught dead reading a picture book asked him serious questions about plot, pacing, and the writing process. Kindergarteners jumped into the "Maybe Maybe" game, suggesting possible adventures for a monkey who finds himself in a peanut shell. I sat at my desk taking notes and getting quietly inspired myself.

When I was a kid in the '70's, I don't remember any authors visiting my school, a mere bus ride away from the heart of publishing and writing in this country. Nowadays it's pretty standard to have author visits; I try to book one every year. I can't help but think that it's good for everyone: for the kids, for the teachers, for the authors (who get book sales as well as a source of income from the presentations), and for all of us readers who might in 20 years ago get to read some terrific books inspired by kids who got to see that the people who create books do exist in real life, and that they themselves can become writers beyond all possible doubt.


Kate R said...

I LOVE your kids book melanges. Thanks for stopping by and now I have visit again soon to see your list. May I suggest Bartimaeous and the Traveling Pants?

Rachel said...

I know this isn't what you meant, kate r, but I'd LOVE to see Bartimaeus try on those pants.