Reviewed September 8, 2015.
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014. 299 pages.
2015 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Picture Books
Here's a wonderful book from a beloved writer. Katherine Paterson, former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, has lived an amazing life. She was born in China to missionary parents, was evacuated multiple times because of war, went on to be a missionary herself to Japan, became an adoptive mother, and achieved great success as a writer. There are fascinating stories here, in the hands of someone who knows how to tell a story.
The stories are from her family and friends as well as her own life. They are remarkable and entertaining. I found one a day was a good pace for reading them, like having coffee with a friend and hearing a memorable, warm and human story.
At the front of the book, she answers some common questions like, "Where do you get your ideas?" I like this paragraph from her answer:
Some of my writer friends have so many ideas, they'll never live long enough to turn them all into books. I look at them with a certain envy, for when I finish a book I say, "Well, that was a great career while it lasted," because I am sure I'll never have an idea worthy of another book. But by now I've written a lot of books, so I must have gotten those ideas from somewhere, and that somewhere is most often from my own life. Another lesson I've learned along the way is that there are no truly original ideas. There are no truly original plots. As the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes said three thousand or so years ago: "There is no new thing under the sun." Except you. Except me. Every individual is new and unique, so we may be stuck with the same old plots, but because a new person is telling the story, bringing his or her singular life to bear on the story, it is fresh and new. So the only excuse I have for daring to write is that no one else in the world would be able to tell the stories that only I can tell. And an aside to those of you wishing to write -- that is your excuse as well. The raw material for our unique stories is our unique lives and perspective on life.
This is a beautiful book from someone who's living a beautiful life.
The book is written with simple enough language that kids can read it, but it will definitely make good reading for adults, too. In fact, I could see reading this book aloud as a family. They aren't dramatic cliff-hanger stories, but they're cozy, warm, and interesting stories, and a delight to read.