Archives for posts with tag: Diana Wynne Jones

Today’s post will be a bit different. Katie over at Youth Literature Review, had a lovely post last Tuesday, entitled “Top Ten Authors I’m Thankful For“. This post got me to thinking. Being thankful for an author is very different than simply loving an author’s work, or enjoying recommending their books. I’ve spent the weekend mulling over this distinction and wondering first if there are specific authors that I’m actually thankful for. And, if so, who and why?

Well it didn’t take long to answer in the affirmative to to the first question, because there are so many decisions I’ve made in life and goals that I’ve created, and then striven to achieve in life, that can be traced to one author: Madeleine L’Engle. I read and reread her books in junior high and high school. Not just her famous books, but all of them, children’s and adult. Her books made me feel like I wasn’t alone even though I spent most of those years feeling very alone. I also really admired her characters. They were intelligent, cultured, well-travelled, and passionate. I wanted to be just like them. Her books inspired me to read Shakespeare, listen to classical music, pay attention to art, take the time to travel and they directly influenced my educational trajectory. I wanted to attend an all-women’s college for a variety of reasons, but admittedly one of those reasons was because L’Engle had. I wrote one of my college entrance essays about her books and wrote my Masters dissertation about A Swiftly Tilting Planet. And, although it’s been years since the days I poured over all her books, she indirectly influenced my decision to pursue a PhD. A Wrinkle in Time is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary right now, so there are tributes to L’Engle all over the place. I like knowing that she has influenced so many other people, including recent Newbery winner Rebecca Stead, whose When You Reach Me is an homage to L’Engle. She passed away when I was in the first year of my PhD. I never met her, although I did venture to St. John the Divine in NY once, because I knew she had been a librarian there. I never really needed to meet her though. I needed her books and I am truly thankful for them.

As for other authors I’m thankful for, I agree with Katie, that J. K. Rowling would definitely make the list, because of the connections and memories she inspired. I love that Harry created a common ground for so many people of varying ages. I love that my friends and I got dressed up for the release parties and celebrated book 5 in Boston, book 6 in London, and book 7 on Cape Cod. I love that in London we were interviewed by CNN International and BBC Spain because our group was first in line at Borders near Oxford Circus. I love that everyone in that group was over 18.

I’m thankful to Nancy Garden for writing YA books about gay and lesbian characters, when it was not socially acceptable to do so. I’m grateful that she continued writing books despite the incredible backlash against Annie on My Mind. I’m thankful that David Levithan currently writes amazing YA books with gay and lesbian characters that have redefined the genre. I appreciate that he neutralized the trauma of coming out in YA lit and writes great stories, where a character’s sexuality is integrated into their overall complex and nuanced identity.

In addition to Madeleine L’Engle, there are two other writers who have directly influenced my education: Thomas Mann and Diana Wynne Jones. I have vivid memories of reading Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers when I was 19. I was taking time off after high school and hadn’t started college yet. I spent a lot of that time debating about what I wanted to study once I went back and had come of with a variety of possibilities. The train of thought as I was reading Mann’s book was awe at the phenomenal narrative that he had created. I then started thinking about how much I enjoyed literature and that I wanted to spend my life reading great books. And it became so clear: I wanted to study literature in college. It was so obvious that I couldn’t even begin to explain why I hadn’t realized it before. So I majored in English, with a minor in Religion. I later encountered Diana Wynne Jones’s books for the first time in graduate school. I had signed up to present during week 5 of our British Children’s Lit post 1960 class. The assignment was Fire and Hemlock and I started to read the book with no prior knowledge or awareness about Jones or this particular story. I loved loved loved the book, but I did not have any idea how to begin interpreting it. During the research for my presentation I finally understood that the book was a rewriting of the Scottish ballads “Tam Lin” and “Thomas the Rhymer”. I distinctly remember the fwomp moment of enlightenment. Jones hadn’t simply rewritten the stories, she had rewritten the questions and ambiguities intrinsic in these two ballads. From there I became interested in Scottish ballads, fairy tales, rewriting, and metanarrative, which lead me to emailing a professor at the University of Edinburgh, who eventually became my advisor.

There you go. A literary history of sara’s education. Thanks, Katie, for the idea. Writing this post has reminded me how much of my life has been influenced by various authors and how tremendously thankful I am for them.

A common request in our store is for fantasy books for a child who “loved Harry Potter”. Now the Harry Potter series is a great read, and while there are people who loved it more than me (they made websites and wrote fan fiction), I’ll readily boast that I was the first in line, dressed as a Ravenclaw prefect, in a bookstore in London for the release of the 6th book. My friends and I were interviewed by CNN International and BBC Spain (thank you, thank you). The point is that I enjoyed HP immensely and it is still great fun to discuss the series with people. But there are a lot of fantasy books out there that are even better and I love having a chance to introduce these books to readers.

For any one who wants to ready quality, British fantasy, Diana Wynne Jones should be at the top of the list. She has an enormous following in her own right, especially in the UK, but has never gained the reputation that Rowling has. However, Jones’s books are incredibly well-written, smart, and engaging. Her books are also challenging. Readers have to work, and work hard, when reading her stories, but the results are well worth the effort. Jones has written for a range of readers and I won’t even try to cover everything here.

The Chrestomanci series is for later elementary readers (at least 4th grade) and includes The Lives of Christopher Chant, Witch Week, Charmed Life, and The Magicians of Caprona. Some of the newest additions to this series, such as Conrad’s Fate and The Pinhoe Egg are probably more appropriate for 5th or 6th grade. All titles are also included in The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volumes I, II, and III (HarperCollins, $9.95).

Her single volume stories are even better and are more appropriate for older readers in junior high and high school mostly because the narratives are complicated and require sophistication and critical thinking, as well as the ability to tease out the significant aspects of the books and then reassemble them into a cohesive story. Again, Jones demands that her readers actively engage with her narratives and it is this respect for kid — the belief that they are capable of such active engagement — that make reading her books such an amazing experience. These books appear to be currently out of print, so rush to your local library for a copy.

My favorite of her books is Fire & Hemlock. When you’re done reading, go do some research on the Scottish ballads Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. The Power of Three, Hexwood, and The Merlin Conspiracy are also excellent, but warning: reading Fire & Hemlock and Hexwood is like running a marathon. You have to train and pace yourself, but, and I can’t stress this enough, you will be so proud of yourself when you get to the finish line.

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