“Never let the child die within you,” advises Ashley Bryan, 93-year-old artist and author, who recently spoke at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, Grand Rapids. During FFW, I also heard children book writers Andrew Clements, Glenys Nellist, Aaree Chung, M.T. Anderson, and Lorie Langdon. If you give books to children, you may enjoy these writers. And, admit it, children’s books inspire adults like us too. Check out the following at your local library or bookstore. Then, buy a book or two for the children in your life.
Andrew Clements is most known for his chapter book Frindle, the hilarious adventure of fifth grader Nick Allen. (Think sneaky class clown.) When Nick learns some interesting facts about how words are created, he gets inspiration for his best plan ever–the frindle. Who says a pen has to be called a pen? Why not call it a frindle? Nick’s teacher, with her huge dictionary, wants Nick to stop the silliness, but once the frindle is out of the box…well, you know what happens (with some surprises along the way).
Clements has written many books for children, but Frindle is his most successful. The book celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, with millions in print. During Clements’ autobiographic talk, I recognized that Clements wastes little in his storytelling. But that wasn’t the most insightful part of his speech. Instead, it was an anecdote Clements hesitated to share, because it still makes him cry. I was so glad he did share, because it illustrates the healing potential of little, funny stories.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 20 children and six adults in 2012, the New Town, Connecticut, school reopened in 2013 at a different location. The school community united under the theme “We Choose Love.” The heroic staff decided they wanted the children to all read one book that would aid the healing process. Among other criteria, this selected book could not contain any names of the victims. Andrew Clement’s Frindle was selected. Clements said he and his wife did an author’s visit to the school, and the time there was “some of the holiest” they have ever experienced.
Ashley Bryan, 93, is revered by many in the children book publishing industry. His children art books on African American culture were among the first to bring more diversity in what American children read. Bryan’s books on Spirituals is a major reason these wonderful songs have not faded from our culture. As a child, I remember singing: “This Little Light of Mine,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “I Want To Be Ready.” New generations of kids don’t have the same opportunities. Bryan noticed this void and provided lovely books to rectify the problem. A WWII veteran, this artist also did an autobiography for children that is worthy reading, especially for potential young artists. Bryan is still creating books. His latest, Sail Away, featuring Langston Hughes’ poetry, came out last year.
A newcomer to children’s books is Arree Chung with his successful Ninja! Max. At FFW, Arree told a Cinderalla story of hating his financial job in the San Francisco area, praying for more passion-driven work, and finding “people angels,” who helped him become a children’s artist and writer. Chung credits God with opening employment at Pixar, where he eventually developed some skills before going to art school. Chung said he wants to be like Ashley Bryan and create children books for a long, long time. New Ninja adventure is on the publishing horizon.
Glenys Nellist is the children’s storyteller with an English accent, who took inspiration from The Jolly Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg. Glenys then created Love Letters from God (Zonderkidz). Playful illustrations are by Sophie Allsopp. Accompanying each rhyming Bible story and Bible verse is a flap for the child to open and find a letter from God. There is space to write in a child’s name. Glenys is proof that grandmothers can publish successful children books and create their own “brand.” She said she gets her husband involved at selling her books at craft shows. He says to passerbys, “Would you like a free book mark?” People stop, said Glenys, because they hear Mr. Nellist’s English accent. It’s like fishing, she declared: He throws out the line, and I reel them in. She reeled me in; I bought three books.
Also, on the FFW schedule were young adult writers I have not read: M.T. Anderson and Lorie Langdon. Anderson was a 2006 National Book Award winner for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. This is a story about a slave boy during the American Revolution. At FFW, Anderson talked about his new book, The Symphony for the City of the Dead (Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad) This book zeroes in on tragic and true events surrounding the longest siege in history. Anderson’s book focuses on composer Shostakovich. His Symphony No. 7 was performed by starving Leningrad musicians. German soldiers, who surrounded the city, also heard the music. After this odd premier the music was smuggled out of Russia. Shostakovich’s portrait, with the story, appeared on Time magazine’s cover. It created more American empathy for the Russians. When asked why he chose to write about the Siege of Leningrad, Anderson joked, “Dude, it’s microfilm!” His book rests on my armchair.
Another book awaiting me is Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon. Doon is the first of four that was inspired by the musical Brigadoon. It centers around best friends Veronica and Mackenna, who enter the Scottish fantasy land of Doon. Veronica wonders, “Why can’t anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes?” The series is put out by Blink Young Adult Books, part of Zondervan, now part of HarperCollins. Langdon said she finds Instagram most effective in connecting with her teenage readers. She introduced me to the online marketing technique: “BookTubing.” Langdon said her interview with BookTuber Sasha at abookutopia introduced her to hundreds of new fans. That interview has had over 16,000 hits. Langdon’s Guilt Hollow (YA imprint BLINK) comes out in the fall.
I hope one of these books piqued your interest. Whether you read by yourself in a comfy chair or cuddle up with a young one, may you savor the best of stories.
Definition of a BookTuber from Urban Dictionary: “Someone on YouTube that makes videos related to books – usually YA novels. BookTubers usually make videos such as book reviews, book hauls, book discussions, and tag videos related to books.”
Below are website links to the children book writers I heard at Festival of Faith and Writing:
M.T. Anderson: http://mt-anderson.com
Ashley Bryan: http://ashleybryancenter.org/index.html
Arree Chung: http://arree.com
Andrew Clements: http://www.andrewclements.com/index.html
Lorie Langdon: http://www.lorielangdon.com
Glenys Nellist: http://www.glenysnellist.com