Monday, October 14, 2013

you remind me of the hero.

Listening To: Another is Waiting by The Avett Brothers
Just FYI: I downloaded the Beautiful Mess app for pictures, and I'm having way too much fun with it. As you will see. 

This weekend I managed to sneak over to Nashville for The Southern Festival of Books. I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be able to attend until the very last minute. And then, finally! I zoomed toward Music City with an absurdly giddy smile on my face. 

I also wore an absurdly loud pair of shoes. So if you were in the Nashville Public Library on Saturday and wondered, “Who let a Clydesdale loose in the halls?” ... my apologies. My heels were straight-up-clompity-clomp-noise. But I had to run to make an event on time. 

Specifically: I ran to hear Kathi Appelt and TA Barron, both great luminaries of middle grade literature, discuss their new books! My word, what a treat. I’ll write more about Kathi Appelt in a separate post. I adore her work, and I’d looked forward to hearing her for so long. If you ever get to hear her chat about her books, please do! She’s so lovely. 

I waited until this event to buy her new novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. I missed her signing, but the swankified people at Parnassus put some signed copies out in the bookstore tent. Yay!!!

Both Kathy Appelt and TA Barron have such a sophisticated whimsy about them. They were both excited about their stories, and excited to share their inspiration with readers. And they were so kind and fun. They gave fab presentations. 

I could write about their session at length, but I would rather share what happened in the Q&A portion of their session that nearly made me cry. 

Most of the attendees for this particular session were adults, but there were a few younger readers in attendance as well. And one adorable little girl raised her hand and asked, quite excitedly, in the sweetest voice: 

“Mr. Barron, which one of your books should I read first?” 

The girl's words were arrow-shaped, apparently, because they connected directly with my heart. 

I think this is why: I so vividly remember what it was like to be a little girl in love with books. I mean, I still know how to hide my heart in the pages of a story. I still know what it’s like to read for hours and not realize any time has slipped by at all. I know the rush of total, indescribable happiness that comes when you open a new book. When you fall for a character. When you whisper dialogue out loud because it so begs to be said. Storylove is an impossibly, wonderfully addictive thing. I still feel it. All book-lovers do. But ... I don’t know that I’ll ever feel it as profoundly as I did when I was that age. And for some reason, when she asked her smart, sweet question, I had ... a moment. Can you relate? Just a sweet, sappy moment of booklove. (That's been happening a lot lately.) 

But that wasn’t even the best part. 

The best part was when the very articulate, elegant, whimsical, mega-bajillion-bestselling-T.A. Barron walked to the edge of the stage - so that he could talk directly to this very discerning young reader - smiled, and said: “I am so glad you asked.” 

He paused for a moment. Propped his chin in his hand, considering her question so carefully. And then he replied: 

“You know ... you remind me of the hero in this novel. Why don’t you start there?” 

I forgot to write down which novel he mentioned, but that doesn't matter so much. Here's what I loved:  

Can you imagine - at age 10 or 11 or 12 ... 
... at the age when you are the best at hiding your heart inside the pages of a book,
... at the age when you are still brave enough to daydream, and wonder, and wear your heart on your sleeve ...

Can you imagine an author saying to you, “You remind me of the hero in this book.” 


The girl beamed

I’ve been thinking about the exchange all weekend, because it symbolizes one of my most favorite aspects of middle grade lit - both reading it and writing it. (Disclaimer: please know: even in the future someday, even if I get to share 100 stories, I’m certain I will never, ever be capable of the kind of book-magic of which I am about to speak. I am so blessed to be able to be any part of that world at all. I pinch myself everyday. But I know I’m not capable of that level of wonderment.)

There is a sneaky, double-sided kind of magic hidden in the best books, I think. Many stories have unlikely heroes. And for 200 pages or so, it’s not uncommon for a reader to live the hero’s journey vicariously.  But I believe the best books - and I know I’m biased, but I see this in middle grade books all the time - do not end at The End. Some stories offer up one final observation when you reach the finale. Quite subtly, in a whisper of pages so fluttery-soft only the most sensitive heart can understand, they all say: 

You remind me of the hero in this book. 

You were hero on the page. You are the hero in the story you get to live. 

And those are the books you still hug years later when you pull them off your shelf, aren't they? Just to remember. Just to hold them against your heart for a while. What a gift. 
“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” - Roald Dahl
Question: which hero in a book would you most like to be like? (Or maybe I should phrase it this way: who is your literary doppelganger?) I'll stick my answer in the comments, too. I hope you're having a happy October! :) 


  1. Lucy from Narnia is mine. She has strength but isn't a feisty warrior. Just Lucy. And she was blond, which pleased me to know end when I first read those books. Totally loved what you said about whispering dialogue because it needs to be said. I love to reread parts of books out loud; it gives such a life to them and makes them so real. Sigh...

  2. The quick and easy answer for me would have to be Hermione from Harry Potter, almost all of the good things and the annoying things about her apply to me; I did well at school, I read ALL the time, I am very practical, I carry a bag that contains EVERYTHING anyone could possibly need (minus the shrinking charm, so you can imagine...), I am a loud and proud goody two shoes and I tend to be a little bossy (however, I hope that I would be just as brave and gung ho as she was if I'm ever thrown into any adventures). The books that really seemed to capture my soul though, are the Christy Miller books. Christy's thoughts, feelings, little insecurities and even her dreams are exactly the same as mine - at times I felt like I was reading about myself! Also, we could pass for twins - we're both tall, kind of lanky (but hoping desperately that it will turn into gracefulness) and have eyes which can't decide whether they're blue or green (the only difference is that I have blond hair and she has brown hair). Your description of what it's like to be in love with books must have been arrow shaped too, because it went straight into my heart and made itself quite at home!

  3. I love this so much! I love it when you write about stories and reading (and booklove and book-magic, to steal your words :).

    I really relate to Hermione a lot, mostly because I am very bookish and got good grades and actually read for fun. :) And I am a safe rule-abider. But she's a bit bolder and outspoken than I am. And a lot braver. :) So I guess I wouldn't mind being a bit more like her.

    I'm trying to think of another character I really connect with...and I keep thinking of Rin, from Shannon Hale's book Forest Born. It's strange because at the beginning of the story I didn't like her because I couldn't understand who she was. And she had made a mistake that she kept dwelling on, and I thought she was being overly dramatic. But as the story went on, other things were revealed and all of a sudden I realized that I was *so* much like Rin. I could relate to her in so many ways, and that's probably part of why Forest Born almost tied with The Goose Girl as my favorite in that series. I can't explain why I liked it so much...I just did. :)

    P.S. I think you highly underestimate the amount of book-magic you're capable of. :)

  4. A hairdresser told me once that I reminded her of Lucy Pevensie once. It was the first thing she said when she called me back. It pretty much made my entire day. That was just last year. lol. :) Even people 20+ want to be compared to their childhood literary heroes. I also love Maggie from Inkheart... She reads book characters to life which is every booknerds not so secret dream.

  5. This post gave me goosebumps. And then a few tears in my eyes. I love books, but I love loving books just as much. It's magical.
    When I was in tenth grade I think, I finally read Little Women. The 1994 version of the movie is my most favorite movie in the world. It lived in our VCR for the majority of my childhood. (Although it did often leave long enough for Anne of Green Gables to visit.) When I read the book I really connected with Jo in a way I never had with a fictional character before. And I know everyone says they are like Jo, because everyone dreams of being a writer and everyone feels like they aren't the best, and they all say and do stupid things, and know that if they lived in an era of petticoats and fancy balls they would wish with all their hearts to be free. But I really do feel like Jo is my literary doppelganger. And this has inspired me constantly on good and bad days.
    I hope that one day I can go to the Southern Book Festival and meet you, among a crowd of young readers that adore all your magical books. :)

  6. Lucy. And Anne. And Harriet the Spy. And Meg Murry. And--wow, you just helped me see something--I always saw myself in the heroines and heroes of ALL my favorite childhood books.

    That's probably why they're still my favorites. And probably why I can't wait to read yours.