Ed Young donates extensive collection to Northeast Children’s Literature Collection

Archives & Special Collections is proud to announce that Ed Young, the multi-award winning author and illustrator of children’s books, has donated his extensive collection of artwork, sketches, scrolls, storyboards, color studies and other archival materials to the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection.  Mr. Young was born in Tientsin, China, lived in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and moved to the United States in 1951 to study architecture.  He graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and taught at the Pratt Institute, Yale University, Naropa Institute, and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

The awards and accolades for his books are too numerous to list but include the Caldecott Medal for Lon Po Po (1989) and Caldecott Honors for The Emperor and the Kite (1967) and Seven Blind Mice (1992). His books have been named to the ALA Notable Books list seven times, have been awarded the AIGA Award: The Fifty Most Beautiful Books of the Year ten times, and have received three Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Awards.  Mr. Young was also nominated in 1992 and 2000 as the U.S. representative to receive the Hans Christian Andersen Award, for “works that have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature.” Some of Mr. Young’s best-known and most-loved books are derived from Chinese folktales and include The Sons of the Dragon King (2004); Monkey King  (2001); The Lost Horse (1998); Mouse Match (1997); Night Visitors (1997); Little Plum (1994); Red Thread (1993); Seven Blind Mice (1992); The Voice of the Great Bell (1989); The Eyes of the Dragon (1986); Yeh Shen (1982); White Wave (1979); Cricket Boy (1977), and 8000 Stones (1971).

Ed Young in his studio

Ed Young in his studio © Gina Randazzo 2014. All rights reserved.

The Ed Young Papers have been on deposit in the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection for approximately eighteen years.  His artwork travels extensively around the world for exhibitions, including many museums in this country as well as the European Union.  Mr. Young employs various media such as collage, watercolor and pastel, making his collection a treasure trove for researchers in the fine arts.  The finding aid for the Ed Young Papers provides information on the more than ninety books’ worth of archival materials.  Mr. Young now lives in Westchester County, New York, with his family and a cat.  More information on Ed Young is available at http://edyoungart.com/.   The Northeast Children’s Literature Collection holds a substantial collection of materials pertaining to children’s literature and is very grateful for this extremely important addition.

Thank you, Mr. Young!

Sandra Horning’s Blog Post #3

Blog entry #3 – Meet William Gray

Looking through more than twenty boxes of the James Marshall Collection has made me feel close to this man I will never have the good fortune to meet. Marshall published about eighty books, many with both his illustrations and text. It is hard to imagine how much he would have produced if he had not died at the early age of 50. In fact, many days I have left the Dodd Center feeling a great sense of loss at his death. Through a friend, I was able to meet Marshall’s longtime partner, William Gray. I met William at the home he and James shared for much of Marshall’s career. For my final blog entry, I’ve included a few of William’s answers to the questions he generously and kindly provided. My thanks go out to William Gray for sharing his time and memories of James Marshall.

 

James Marshall giving a presentation (James Marshall Papers Collection File photograph, n.d.)

James Marshall giving a presentation (James Marshall Papers Collection File photograph, n.d.).  All rights reserved.  No reproduction of any kind allowed.

 

As I mentioned in my first blog, James Marshall wrote many of his books under the pseudonym Edward Marshall. William explained that Marshall wanted to work with more than one publisher. In order to not compete with his own picture books, the pseudonym was used and he wrote in a different genre, beginning readers. “They really suited his talent. I wouldn’t say they were easy to do just because they were easy to read.  It was something that just came more naturally to him, the smaller format.”

To clarify that the comments in the margins of the dummies and manuscripts are Marshall’s, I asked about the handwriting and if William knew if anyone else wrote comments on Marshall’s work. William replied that, “He [Marshall] used a Schaefer fountain pen with those plastic capsules to draw with and to write with. He had pretty distinctive handwriting, but no one came near his work.”

I went on to ask specifically about the Harry Allard and Jeffery Allen manuscripts I discussed in my second blog post. William told me that Allard and Allen were both friends of Marshall before each collaborated on books with him. “They would mail a manuscript to him [Marshall]. He would tear it apart limb from limb and then put it back together according to what he thought was best.”

I noted that almost all of Marshall’s changes went to print and William agreed,“Oh, they made every change he suggested. He ran the show….Jim appreciated their inventiveness. I mean Harry came up with The Stupids and with Miss Nelson. But as for shaping a story, that was always Jim’s work.

William and I talked about Marshall’s ability to critique his own work. “Jim was extremely critical of his own work and any work,” William told me. “Nothing was perfect. Even if it was a masterpiece he would find something to criticize, always. He would very seldom say, ‘I guess this is pretty good.’ He had critical faculties that kicked in and that is what kept him going.”

 This comment came back to me when I went through Maurice Sendak’s bequest of additional James Marshall material. Sendak and Marshall were good friends, and Sendak owned several of Marshall’s book dummies and original artwork, most of which are now with the Marshall Collection. Among these Sendak materials is a book that Marshall created for Sendak’s birthday. The book is extraordinary, with wonderful characters wishing Maurice a happy birthday. Marshall also includes a short story from his future publication Rats on the Roof.  At the end of the story, Marshall is once again critical of his endings, drawing two rats with speech bubbles. The first rat says, “Rather Chekhovian, don’t you feel?” The second rat replies, “He never could come up with decent endings.

  

A page from the Birthday Book for Maurice Sendak from James Marshall (Maurice Sendak Collection of James Marshall Box 2012.0152.2). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

A page from the Birthday Book for Maurice Sendak from James Marshall (Maurice Sendak Collection of James Marshall Box 2012.0152.2). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.


I asked William if there was a work that Marshall was most proud of or that achieved what Marshall wanted? William replied,  “I can tell you I really, really appreciate the Fox books. I think his talent went into that in a way that really expressed himself and certainly delights me.”  William went on to say that Marshall “was kind of stuck in the George and Martha books pretty much in the framework of a relation between two people, but with the Fox books there would be all kinds of plots and subplots. None of those characters is two dimensional.  In just a few sentence you know exactly who they are. I even have people say, ‘Oh, well obviously he used me for Carmen.’”

This led me to ask if Marshall was most like Fox.  William said, “I think so… There is a lot of Jim in Fox.” William and I continued on to discuss the brilliant endings and humor in the Fox stories, and the way the humor was not spelled out. William said that was intentional. In fact, it was“his [Marshall’s] number one rule. Never condescend to children. Don’t do it ever.”

Most of Marshall’s sketchbooks and drafts are marked with a place and date. It became clear that he worked constantly, even while traveling. There are often to-do lists in the midst of his sketches. In one list from a trip to Cape Cod on March 10, Marshall is “working on a dummy for Yummers II, driving to Boston, going to lunch, meeting with someone from Houghton Mifflin, doing something at Nickelodeon, driving back to the Cape, picking up lamb shanks, and working in bed on Roberta Molesworthy (an iffy book).”

A page from Marshall's sketches. (James Marshall Papers. Box 8:Folder 170). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

A page from Marshall’s sketches. (James Marshall Papers. Box 8:Folder 170). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

 

The year isn’t dated,  but Yummers Too was published in 1986. If Marshall was working on a dummy for this book, I can guess the date would be around 1984. Williams said that Marshall always worked. “Everything was integrated into his work.” He didn’t like to fly and preferred to work on trains. “He’d take a train to Texas or California. He loved to work on the train.”

 

 

 

 

In addition to sketchbooks, William said Marshall also kept extensive diaries. William has kept these diaries, but I did find one trip diary in the collection. The year isn’t dated, however, I can guess from what he was working on that it is probably from around 1990. The diary is all text and details his trip to New Orleans, including what he read each day: “finished a book on Janet Flanner…masterful novel by Nina Berberova, The Accompanist… Editon Wharton.”

A page from Marshall's trip diary to New Orleans. (James Marshall Papers. Box 21:Folder 299). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

A page from Marshall’s trip diary to New Orleans. (James Marshall Papers. Box 21:Folder 299). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marshall was also a voracious reader. William showed me the special shelves Marshall had built around his room to hold some of his books.

A list of books from the Marshall Collection. (James Marshall Papers. Box 21:folder 303). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

A list of books from the Marshall Collection. (James Marshall Papers. Box 21:folder 303). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

William said he liked “Moliere and Chekhov…and a lot of the British women novelists like Elizabeth Taylor and Jean Rhys.” I found a piece of paper with a list of books in the collection. I am assuming these were books Marshall had read or books he purchased to read.

The page was numbered 67.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve learned much in going through the Marshall papers and in talking with William Gray. James Marshall was incredibly talented in his ability to do both quality text and illustrations. He worked very hard to achieve the high quality. Going forward, it will be impossible for me to view my own work without giving it a more critical look: What would James Marshall say? He would most likely say “it could be better” and he would probably be right. Achieving the highest quality takes not only talent, but the sweat, tears, and labor of hard work. On that note, with all that I have gleaned from seeing Marshall’s process, it is time that I get back to the hard work of improving my own manuscripts. Thank you James Marshall, and thank you to the Dodd Research Center and the providers of the James Marshall Fellowship.

New Exhibition: “For Young Naturalists: Ocean Ecology in Children’s Literature”

Explore the diverse ways authors and illustrators use word and image to explain to
children the complex relationships between man and the ocean in a new student-curated
exhibition “For Young Naturalists: Ocean Ecology in Children’s Literature,” on
display from March 27 to April 11 in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center’s John P.
McDonald Reading Room. Featuring artwork and books drawn from the Northeast
Children’s Literature Collection in Archives and Special Collections, student curator
Rebecca D’Angelo presents children’s books from 1844 to 2012 that illuminate how
subjects such as ocean biodiversity, food security, and conservation have been depicted
and narrated through time.

An Ocean World by Peter Sis (New York : Greenwillow, 1992). Pg. 8.

An Ocean World by Peter Sis (New York : Greenwillow, 1992). Pg. 8.

This exhibition is on view to coincide with the Edwin Way Teale Lectures “What role
will the oceans play in meeting the global demand for food?” by Steven D. Gaines,
Thursday, March 27, and “Climate, Weather, Oceans and Biodiversity: Science in Policy
and Politics” by Jane Lubchenco, Thursday, April 10, 4:00pm in the Dodd Center’s
Konover Auditorium.

Location:  The John P. McDonald Reading Room, Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Dates: March 27-April 11, 2014

Exhibition hours: 10:00am to 4:00pm, Monday through Friday

For more information contact:
Melissa Watterworth Batt, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research
Center, UConn Libraries, melissa.watterworth@uconn.edu

Sandra Horning’s Blog Post #2

 

Blog entry 2 – Every Word Counts!

All writers are familiar with the concept of “every word counts.” For writers of children’s picture books and beginning readers, every word literally counts. Most picture books published today have about 300 words. Many editors won’t even read a picture book manuscript much longer than that. Level 1 beginning readers are even shorter, with about 100 words. Keep in mind that, despite the low word count, a good story needs an arc, a plot, humor, and character development. It might seem like these stories are written quickly, and perhaps the first idea is written in a short period of time, but getting the text ready for publication can take many days, weeks, months, or longer to get right. Each word and every sentence is reviewed and revised many times. Here are some of the questions an author (and an editor) considers with each word and sentence:

 

Is the word necessary?

Is it the right word to convey the meaning you intend? (Does the word have more than one meaning?)

Do the challenging words have contextual clues to allow the reader to infer the definition?

Is the word count within the guidelines?

 

In an early beginning reader, an author needs to follow additional guidelines:

The words need to be simple enough for an emerging reader to pronounce and understand.

Contractions should be spelled out.

The words should be no more than two syllables.

Complex sentences should not be used.

The majority of the words in the text should be repeated, as you can’t introduce too many new or challenging words to an emerging reader.

 

I’ve been heartened to see that even someone as talented, prolific, and well known as James Marshall didn’t get every word right on his first few drafts. In looking through the dummies and drafts of his stories, I’ve enjoyed seeing his notes and eraser marks as he struggled to search for the best word.

For example, a George and Martha story usually has between 100 -150 words, but there is still much humor and character development packed into each simple story.  In one of my favorites, “The Trick” in George and Martha Back in Town, George can’t resist playing tricks on Martha, so Martha plans a trick of her own. Even at the final galley stage of the book, Marshall was still requesting changes to the text. For example, the sentence

“And when she discovered that the house slippers had been nailed to the floor, she was not amused.”

 was changed at the galley stage to:

age from galley, "The Trick" in George and Martha Back in Town (James Marshall Papers Box 8:Folder 161). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

Page from galley, “The Trick” in George and Martha Back in Town (James Marshall Papers Box 8:Folder 161). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

“And when she found her house slippers nailed to the floor, she was not amused.”

The final sentence is much more succinct and flows better, while still maintaining the humor. Every galley page I’ve viewed has author edits similar to this page.

 

 

 

In the picture book The Cut-Ups Carry On, the cut-ups Spud Jenkins and Joe Turner take dance lessons and end up entering a contest with one of them dressed as a girl. In a dummy for the book Marshall describes the scene as Spud and Joe arrive at the studio for the contest:

At the T.V. Studio, Mary Frances and Charles Andrew Frothingham were just finishing up a superb tango.

“Superb” is crossed out and “flashy” is written above it. Then “flashy” is crossed out and “dazzling” is written, which is the final version in print.

At the T.V. Studio, Mary Frances and Charles Andrew Frothingham were just finishing up a dazzling tango.

“Dazzling” is a great choice that combines the essence of both “superb” and “flashy.”

 

Pgs. 28-29, dummy for The Cut-ups Carry On (James Marshall Papers Box 14:Folder 238) All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

Pgs. 28-29, dummy for The Cut-ups Carry On (James Marshall Papers Box 14:Folder 238) All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

                               

In a dummy for The Cut-Ups Crack Up, Marshall describes Spud and Joe as they speed around town in a “borrowed” car.

At the corner of Maple and Elm, they passed by an astonished Mary Frances and Charles Andrews.

In the final version, “passed” was changed to a much better action verb: “sailed.”

At the corner of Maple and Elm, they sailed by an astonished Mary Frances and Charles Andrew.

Again, this is a very simple word change that greatly improves the sentence.

In the dummy for the beginning reader Three Up A Tree, the story begins with the characters looking at a tree house:

Some big kids down the block had made a treehouse.

The final version reads:

Some big kids down the street had built a swell treehouse.

 Three word changes, “block” to “street”,  “made” to “built”, and the addition of “swell” give this sentence a boost. Now the reader can imagine the kids building a treehouse, and adding “swell” shows how much they admire it.

Marshall paid so much attention to words that he even made suggestions on other author’s manuscripts that he was illustrating. His notes and papers make it clear that he shared suggested changes to words and sentences with the authors Harry Allard (of the Miss Nelson and the Stupid series) and Jeffrey Allen (Nosey Mrs. Rat, Bonzini, and the Mary Alice stories).

In Nosey Mrs. Rat the story begins with Mrs. Rat spying on her neighbor in the bath. Allen’s original manuscript read:

“I see that you are using lilac bubble bath,” Shirley Foster said.

“I personally prefer rose.”

Mrs. Davis stepped out of the bath and locked the window.

Marshall’s suggestion for changing the last line was as follows:

Mrs. Davis pulled down the shade.

This sentence was used in the final text. With fewer words Marshall made a funnier sentence and one that also worked better for the humor in the illustration. It is easier and funnier to show a shade being pulled down than to show a window being locked.

 

Pgs. 1-2, manuscript , Nosey Mrs. Rat (James Marshall Papers Box 8:Folder 170). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

Pgs. 1-2, manuscript , Nosey Mrs. Rat (James Marshall Papers Box 8:Folder 170). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind allowed.

 

 

As you can see from the image, Marshall made many suggestions to Nosey Mrs. Rat. Many of them were used, including changing the title and main character from Nosey Shirley Foster to Nosey Mrs. Rat. It is rare for an illustrator to suggest text changes to the author. Most of the authors I know have never had an illustrator suggest changes. It is obvious that Marshall paid just as much attention to words, both his and others’, as he did to his illustrations. Although revising a manuscript over and over again can be tedious, Marshall’s papers and ultimately the success of his books remind me that every revision is worthwhile because every word does count, especially for the youngest readers. That said, I probably could have made this blog post a bit shorter! I will certainly be revising my work again before I send it out.

 

 

 

 

David Polochanin’s new poetry

The recent James Marshall Fellowship awardee David Polochanin has published some new poems.  Check them out at  http://www.gadflyonline.com/home/index.php/how-to-write-a-poem/.

This curator’s favorite is “Dogs riding in cars, a brief analysis” with second favorite, “Moving in with Martha Stewart.”  Congratulations, David!

Insight on a Fellowship

For the 2012-2013 academic year, Glastonbury teacher and writer David Polochanin was awarded the James Marshall Fellowship while on sabbatical to research the archives at the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection and create young adult poetry and fiction of his own. This is the last in a series of blog installments on his insights, observations, and discoveries.

Blog post 4:  On Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, and Some Final Thoughts On My Fellowship

 “Tuck Everlasting is a fearsome and beautifully written book that can’t be put down or forgotten… I esteem it as a work or art, but it makes me as nervous as a cat. If I were twelve, on the other hand, I would love it.”

–          Jean Stafford, The New Yorker, 1975

“It’s almost impossible to pick one book that speaks to all the needs, dreams, desires of children in these years of the Search for Self. But if we were to choose one book for a ten to twelve- year-old stranded on that proverbial desert island, it would probably be Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.”

 –          From Choosing Books for Kids: Choosing the Right Book For the Right Child At The Right Time (Ballantine Books, 1986)

Unless you’re a researcher, author, or interested in the inner workings of the writing craft, it is likely that, when reading a new book, with its glossy cover and crisp new pages, you will never know the labor involved in writing it. That’s not what draws people toward reading literature, usually. You might read a review on amazon.com or in a newspaper. You may get a recommendation from a friend, or read a blurb on a back cover in a bookstore.

It’s also likely that few readers probably care about that process – the multiple drafts, the dead-ends, the outlines, the correspondence with agents and editors – in general, the ‘messiness’ that goes along with writing a book. After all, there are a select few who have the ambition to write a book, even fewer who pull it off, and fewer still who get their books published. Most readers, I submit, read for entertainment, not to study the writing process.

Good thing for me that I like to do that.

When examining drafts of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, the 1975 masterwork of children’s literature often listed on all-time best-books-for-children lists, it became immediately clear that her process was not easy or quick. It wasn’t a masterpiece the first time around. There are three drafts included in the collection, and the first two are thoroughly edited, with numerous cross-outs, inserts, writing all over the top, side, and bottom margins, places where new paragraphs need to be inserted, arrows drawn from here to there. Whether it’s a change from “said” to “whispered”, changing a reference from a character’s name to a pronoun reference, the elimination of how a chapter would begin, the manuscript is marked up – in a good way. When I flipped through the manuscript’s first draft, not one page was left alone.

Click here for an example of Natalie Babbitt’s revision process. 

One powerful example of this is at the end of Chapter 22, where Babbitt adds this dramatic, skillful ending in handwritten script in the bottom and side margins. The cross-outs are Ms. Babbitt’s.

Mae had killed the man in the yellow suit. And she had meant to kill him…

             Winnie had killed a wasp once, in fear and anger, just as it in time to spare           herself a stinging. She had slammed at the wasp with a heavy book, and killed it.  And then, at once, seeing its body broken, the thin wings stilled, she had at once  wished it were alive again. She had wept for that wasp. Was Mae weeping now for the man in the yellow suit? In spite of her wish to spare the world, did she wish he were alive again? There was no way of knowing. But Mae had done what she thought she had to do. Winnie closed her eyes to shut out the silent pulse of the lightning.

I don’t know about you, but when I see examples of revision like that – which eventually became a permanent part of the story – I get chills. To know that paragraph was not in Ms. Babbitt’s mind when initially composing the first draft speaks volumes about the importance of revising, and why writers must revise if they are to push themselves to write their best work.

Here is another deft example of Babbitt’s revision, her first draft of the opening paragraph to chapter 25, which came to be the first paragraph of Chapter 23. Again, the cross-throughs are Babbitt’s.

It was the longest day: mindlessly hot, unspeakably hot, a cruel punishment to a   guiltless world for unknown too hot to move, or even think. The countryside, the village of Treegap, the wood, motionless all lay whipped and helpless gasping. The sun was a ponderous circle without edges, a roar without a sound, a blazingglare blaze so thorough consuming that even  Queen Anne’s lace cast perfect,  motionless shadows and remorseless that even in the Foster’s parlor, with curtains drawn, it seemed an actual tangible presence. You could not shut it out.

In her second draft, this paragraph evolved to:

It was the longest day: mindlessly hot, unspeakably hot, too hot to move or even   think. The countryside, the village of Treegap, the wood – all lay defeated whipped and beaten. Nothing stirred. The sun was a ponderous circle without edges, a roar without a sound, a blazing glare so thorough and remorseless that    even in the Fosters’ parlor, with curtains drawn, it seemed an actual presence.You could not shut it out.

Notice how her language tightens. The text does not become spare – Babbitt’s prose is too descriptive and rich to be spare – but words and phrases are eliminated, and the writing is better for it.

What I wonder about, as a teacher, as a writer, is this: Do student writers know this about writing? Do they know that this is a normal part of a writer’s process? That even the drafts of some of the greatest masterworks of children’s literature were not polished or complete in the first draft, or even the second draft?

Would it help for them to see this? I believe so. As a freelance writer, poet, and former journalist myself, I derived an education – and also inspiration – from reading through Babbitt’s drafts and witnessing her process.

A few other interesting things caught my attention as I read through the three drafts. First, the lead character, Winnie, was originally not named Winnie. She was Daisy. Only after chapter 10 of her second draft did Babbitt change her name. Also, the title of the book, etched in the minds of children and adults alike, was not a certain thing. During the process, Babbitt brainstormed various titles, including: The Ripe Old Age Of Always, Ancient, An Ancient Tender Age, Daisy and Forever, and Tuck Everlasting.

I wondered why these changes were made – with these and several other questions. There are sometimes limitations when reading through archival materials, so I thought the only way to get the answers was to ask Natalie Babbitt herself.

Five days after sending her a list of my questions, Ms. Babbitt graciously and generously responded. Her responses provide insights about Tuck, her personal writing process, and she even revealed what, to her, is the finest piece of children’s literature.

Here is the entire, unedited transcript of my questions and her answers. I chose not to shorten it because her responses are simply too good to edit.

1. I noticed [in your notes] that there appeared to be a list of potential titles for this book, including:

 The Ripe Old Age Of Always                                     Daisy And Forever

Ancient                                                                       Tuck Everlasting

An Ancient Tender Age

How did you ultimately arrive at Tuck Everlasting? Was it your decision or an editor’s? Do you recall what you were thinking while going through this process? And, do you think the title is especially important for this book, or if the book would have succeeded had you named it something else?

I want to start by saying there are no rules for writing stories, once you get past grammar and punctuation. Everyone has systems of their own. I think choosing a title is one of the most difficult extras. But finally, for me, anyway, a title comes to the head of the list because, whether the writer knows it or not, it should say best what needs saying: it tells something about the story it represents, but not too much – and it needs to have an almost musical rhythm to it. My editor, without whom I’d never have written a word, has never demanded one title or another – he leaves it up to me – but if he dislikes the sound of a title, or its seeming meaning, he’ll say so. But I doubt if a given title would make a success of a story, good, bad, or indifferent. Leaning on any part of a story – except the story itself – to create success spells disaster.

2. I noticed in the first draft and through Chapter 10 of the second draft that the lead character was named Daisy.  Can you tell me why you made the change to Winnie? Also, it looked like she was possibly named Anna in one of the drafts. Can you comment on why you changed her name and if you had changed characters’ names in other books you have written while in the process of writing?

 The name of my main character in Tuck was changed a number of times because, first, I wanted a name that was popular at the time the story takes place, and second, I wanted to find a name that, for me sounded serious – not cute; a name representative (for me) of the character’s personality. “Daisy” began to annoy me. Since then, mostly, I choose names very carefully while I’m planning a story. “Winnie”, as you know now, is a nickname for “Winifred”, and both can be used here to good effect. I think.

 3. About the process… did you realize you were writing something extraordinary/special as you were composing Tuck? If so, when, and how did this impact your writing?

Did I realize I was writing something extraordinary when I was writing Tuck? Not in the least. In fact, I was pretty sure the theme had already been used many times. It still surprises me that it was fairly unique. But I can tell you that many adults, when I told them what the basic theme of the story was going to be, were horrified. “Write about death for children? That’s a terrible idea! They won’t understand that! It will only scare them!” Wrong! Completely wrong! I have had wonderful, articulate letters from thoughtful, philosophizing (if that’s a word) children steadily throughout the years since it appeared. It is mainly to the credit of reading teachers that it has been used in schools, bless them. But the children understand it by themselves, and have a lot to say about it. I wish this society would stop thinking that everyone under the age of seventeen is useless and dumb.

 4. I noticed that your first draft was in longhand. Is that how you typically start to write? If so, why do you feel that method works for you?

 My first draft was in longhand because, in the 70s, computers were not commonplace. I wrote in longhand, and then typed it all on my typewriter, chapter by chapter, as I went along. It’s what everyone did, so far as I know.

5. Can you comment on the writing process of this book? Did the writing happen more quickly or slowly than usual? Do you recall how long it took to write the 1st draft, to finish the second draft, and complete the third?

I don’t know if I ever had a writing process exactly. I never began a story (on paper) until I knew what it was that I wanted to say, and how the story would end. I have never begun a story without knowing what the ending will be. And, as far as I’m concerned, every story should have a purpose. But you have to be really careful not to preach. Some stories come easily because their purpose is clear from the beginning. But my latest story, The Moon Over High Street, took ten years to become a real book. In the beginning, it was terrible, and I kept throwing most of it away. But I think it works all right now that it’s complete.

6. Why do you think, in this age of fickle, and sometimes odd, tastes in children’s literature, that Tuck has endured all these years? Any theories?

 I think Tuck has lasted because, no matter how many years go by, the question of death, and how to live with it, never goes away. What you call ‘odd’ and ‘fickle’ about tastes in children’s literature are aspects that do not come from the young readers themselves. They come mostly from writers – and illustrators – who are trying to become established. Nothing wrong with that. But I think the best themes come from the people who remember what it was really like to be a child. My childhood is very clear and distinct to me. In fact, I think my whole philosophy was created before I was ten years old, and it has never changed. This doesn’t mean that I think my books are special in any way – after all, I started out wanting to be an illustrator – but at least they’re honest, and, I hope, direct.

7. I noticed that you had a good deal of notes and outlining, including a chronology, as part of your manuscript. Is this typical for you? If so, why do you feel that’s an important part of your process? Does it make the writing any easier?

Click here for Natalie Babbitt’s handwritten chronology for Tuck Everlasting.

Yes, I take a lot of notes and do a lot of research, and think and plan endlessly. I can’t start writing until the story has a shape and a purpose (for me) and a good ending. Not happy, necessarily, but rational and reasonable.

8. Your first two drafts include many revisions, cross-outs, arrows all over the margins, etc. As a teacher and a writer, it was excellent to see the, for lack of a better word, ‘messiness’, of this process. What is your revision process like? Do you read your work aloud? Do you have other readers you count on for feedback? It seemed that some of these revisions were revelatory and substantial. Do you expect to make significant changes when revising, or are you surprised by them?

 My drafts now are a lot tidier than they used to be. Computers are a great help. But there have been lots and lots of cross-outs and arrows in my head. And that’s where the revisions try themselves out. I think about a new story endlessly, and completely stop reading anything else until there’s room in my head once again. No, I don’t read my work aloud except when I have a few beginning pages. Then, sometimes, I send a few paragraphs to my editor (his name is Michael di Capua, and we’ve been together for more than 45 years). He is very candid in his reactions, and I treasure them. But I don’t think I’ve ever read anything aloud to my husband. He’s got a PhD in American Studies, with a specialization in American literature, and that aspects usually scares me. Mostly, he reads my books when they’re published.

9. What are a few of what you believe to be the finest examples of children’s literature, all-time? A Natalie Babbitt Top 5 or Top 10?

The finest example of children’s literature is, to me, Alice in Wonderland. I read it first when I was in fourth grade and it has formed a lot of different pieces of my taste and philosophy. The language is wonderful, and Alice herself is the only character in the book that has a particle of sense. It tells the truth, and it tells it with objectivity and humor and shows again and again what adults are really about.

Click here for two versions of the dust jacket design for Tuck Everlasting, one illustrated by Natalie Babbitt.     

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On a closing note, back in December when I began this fellowship, when I discovered that Tuck Everlasting was in the NCLC collection, I decided that I wanted to write my final blog post about this book. That, along with Natalie Babbitt’s thoughtful and revealing responses, makes me feel as though I made the right decision. For me, anyway. There could have been any number of paths that this fellowship took; there are hundreds of boxes of material that I did not explore. But I do want to recognize and thank the NCLC curator Terri Goldich for allowing me tremendous latitude in what I did, and for her support along the way. Thanks, also, to the other curators and Dodd Center staff, including Betsy Pittman, for accommodating my requests and answering my questions. I’m going to miss this place.

This fellowship was an unexpected, yet significant part of a sabbatical in which I have mainly written young adult poetry – I have a collection of poems that I am currently pitching to agents and editors – and a collection of short stories that I am planning to polish and revise in the next few weeks. I am grateful to the Glastonbury School District, its Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Alan Bookman, my principal at Gideon Welles School, Jay Gregorski, and the Director of Reading and Language Arts, Joanne St. Peter, for supporting this sabbatical. What an unparalleled professional development opportunity. I learned a lot about myself as a writer and a teacher and look forward to returning to the classroom in the fall.

I think it’s appropriate to finish this post with Natalie Babbitt’s last words to me in her letter, when she puts her writing process simply, perhaps deceptively so.

What it comes down to, for me, is: you have to have something to say, and you have to like words. And that’s about it.