Some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up and touch everything. If you never let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. – E.L. Konigsburg
I was saddened this weekend to to hear about the death of author E.L. Konigsburg. If we are lucky children we come across books so magical they become a part of our childhood along with the family vacations and other precious memories that make us who we are. It’s one of the reasons I believe so much in the importance of libraries, librarians, and sharing books with people.
The Mixed-Up Files of of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of those books for me. In fact, even though I have read hundreds if not thousands of books since then it still remains my all-time favorite book. Claudia and I have a lot in common, even as a child I admired her excellent planning and interest in learning new things.
To a midwestern girl whose city experience was mostly limited to driving through the ruins of downtown Detroit the Kincaid sibling’s adventures in New York City and The Metropolitan Museum of Art were simply amazing. I have to admit I was a little disappointed in how much the museum had changed (admittedly over the course of several decades) when I finally was able to visit in my late twenties.
I had the pleasure of reading The View From Saturday as a library school student. I believe we were assigned to read a Newbery book and I was delighted to see a “new” title from an author I had loved as a child. I believe it was Konigsburg’s books that first taught me as a young reader that if I liked a book I should look for other things by the same author.
Sharing the the news, and discussing the book on social media proved to be a lesson in the true magic of award winners: they give us a collective reading experience. Friends and colleagues whose childhoods spanned several decades shared their memories of reading Konigsburg’s work. You will find few people my age and younger who don’t remember Bridge to Terabithia, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Westing Game, or Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Awards truly make special books part of our culture. Volunteering at a school in my new rural hometown I happened to find myself in the room of the middle school language arts teacher. I was struck by how many of the same titles were read by these students and students very different from them back in Cleveland. The Giver, Maniac Magee, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and Holes are just a few examples of how the collective reading experiences continue around award books.
If anything, Caldecott winners are even more universal. Staff members whose own childhoods spanned several decades and ethnicities spoke fondly of memories of The Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are, and Make Way for Ducklings. While the Printz has had only a fraction of the time to make an impact you’ll still find few students graduating from Cleveland high schools who haven’t crossed paths with Monster at some point during their education.
Someday, hopefully, I will have a child come home from school and tell me their teacher is reading them The One and Only Ivan and I will smile and ask them how much they’ve read so far. They will be able to discuss the book with cousins in other states, their teenage babysitter, and someday their own children. We will see if they like it as much as they liked their mother’s copy of The Mixed Up Files.
That is the magic of truly distinguished books for young people.