March 2012

Jennifer L. Holm at the UMMA

Random Musing
Jennifer L. Holm came to the University of Michigan on Thursday, March 29th as part of the Sarah Marwil Lamstein Children’s Literature Lecture Series. (That's a long one, innit?)

I first read Holm's Our Only May Amelia when I was ten years old. My school had this Book-a-thon contest which essentially consisted of reading as many Newbery Honor and Medal books as you could in one year. For each book read (and you had to answer a short quiz to prove you'd really read the book  the system worked back then, Wikipedia didn't exist), you got one Book-a-thon certificate. At the end of the year, they tallied up who in each grade had collected the most certificates and the winner received a $20 Border's gift card. I won both years  5th and 6th grade. My small moment of glory.

Ahem, anyways, to get back to the point, I read Our Only May Amelia as part of that whole Book-a-thon competition, and have loved it ever since. The book follows May Amelia, a girl with seven older brothers, as she grows up on the Nasel river in Washington state at the beginning of the 20th century. It's touching and funny, surprisingly dark for a children's book, and exceptionally well written. I'm an enormous fan of well-done children' literature  Richard Peck is another author to check out if you're similarly inclined  and was very excited when I found out Jennifer L. Holm was coming to Ann Arbor.

The lecture was scheduled to start at 5:10pm in the Helmut Stern Auditorium of the UMMA, but I got there a bit early. Ms. Holm was actually up at the podium signing a few books for some kids whose parents couldn't stay for the lecture and I decided to go up and introduce myself and tell her how much I love Our Only May Amelia. I also had my copy with me, and was hoping it wouldn't be too weird or intrusive to ask her to sign it.

Now I've met a few authors over the course of my twenty-one years: Brian Jacques when I was twelve, Lois Lowry just last year (she was the children's literature lecturer for 2011), the poet Suzanne Buffam only a few weeks ago (as part of the Zell Visiting Writer's Series). They were all nice people  I have a very fond memory of Brian Jacques telling me that my name sounds fierce and warrior-like  and I was super excited to meet them, but Jennifer L. Holm stands out nonetheless.

She was not only incredibly gracious about signing my book, but seemed thankful that I had liked it/it had meant so much to me. In short, she seemed as thrilled to meet me as I was to meet her. This is somewhat obvious from how she signed the book.

                                    I think that giant "sniff" is rather telling

I had the feeling that she's the kind of person who tries her best to answer any fan mail she receives from kids, and as the lecture started it quickly became obvious just much she loves her audience.

There were two kids attending this lecture with their moms, and at multiple times during the lecture she referred to them and had them come up on stage to help her out: to read an excerpt from her upcoming book, to answer questions about what kids look for when choosing a book to read, to participate in a small drawing segment surrounding her Babymouse series. You could tell she wanted them to have fun during the lecture. It seemed important to her.

The lecture was largely aimed at adults, but it was definitely fun and interesting by just about anyone's standards. She talked about how big an influence her family has had on her books  her three Newberry Honor books are all historical fiction tied to her own family history  and about what her writing process is like. I'd had no idea just how much research went into writing a children's historical fiction novel (which was rather closed-minded of me considering how much I presume to respect the genre as a whole). For example, she actually spent a lot of time in Key West to research and write Turtle In Paradise, and Our Only May Amelia took her six total years to research and write. I didn't know that she currently collaborates with her brother Matthew Holm on her Babymouse series either, or that she had originally thought of Our Only May Amelia as a novel for adults.

The lecture was illuminating in so many ways, and really has rekindled my adoration of children's literature. I'm going to devote some time to finishing a few more of Jennifer L. Holm's novels soon, as well as more of Richard Peck's. The lecture also made me suddenly homesick for Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. Not every university has such amazing lecture series, or opens up so many opportunities to meet incredible writers.

As for where I'm going exactly that I'll be homesick for Ann Arbor anytime soon, I'll be sure to do some illuminating of my own in the near future. Keep an eye out for that post. But for now, do yourself a favor and go spend some time with May Amelia.

Embodying Spring

"She looked like a very incarnation of Spring — as if all the shimmer of young leaves and glow of young mornings and evanescent sweetness of young blossoms in a thousand springs had been embodied in her." -L.M. Montgomery, Kilmeny of the Orchard

"'She's a bit purtier than you, but I like you best — ye look like a bit o' spring.'"
-L.M. Montgomery, Magic for Marigold

"Surely the flowers of a hundred springs
Are simply the souls of beautiful things!
The poppies aflame with gold and red
Were the kisses of lovers in days that are fled.
The purple pansies with dew-drops pearled
Were the rainbow dreams of a youngling world.
The lily, white as a star apart,
Was the first pure prayer of a virgin heart.
The daisies that dance and twinkle so
Were the laughter of children in long ago.
The sweetness of all true friendship yet
Lives in the breath of the mignonette.
To the white narcissus there must belong
The very delight of a maiden's song.
And the rose, all flowers of the earth above,
Was a perfect, rapturous thought of love.
Oh! surely the blossoms of all the springs
Must be the souls of beautiful things." -L.M. Montgomery, "Fancies"

Anne Shirley-ism #4

"'Plum puffs won't minister to a mind diseased,' said Anne disconsolately; but Marilla thought it a good sign that she had recovered sufficiently to adapt a quotation."
-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

Spring is Here

"'I'm always a little mad in spring. But it's such a divine madness.'" -L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Ingleside

"'Spring is such a happyfying time isnt it….'" -L.M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon

"…spring is just around the corner and I have forgotten everything but gladness.'"
-L.M. Montgomery, Emily Climbs

"One could not be altogether unhappy, in springtime…" -L.M. Montgomery, Magic for Marigold

On Friendship #23

"…All I want is to tell you stories about my life.

For each new friend we make, the past becomes an unintended
An invisible hallway unfolds behind each friend's body, hidden from
     view by that friend's newness.
It makes me lonely." -Ken Chen, "3. The Invisible Memoir"

Of Clay

"…having learned that people cannot be moulded like clay…" -Louisa May Alcott, Jo's Boys

"'…Nature has but little clay…like that of which she moulded you.'" -Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Alcott on "Genius" and "Talent"

"It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius, especially ambitious young men and women." -Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

"'…because talent isn't genius, and no amount of energy can make it so. I want to be great, or nothing.'" -Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

"'On, I don't think I'm a genius!' cried Josie, growing calm and sober as she listened to the melodious voice and looked into the expressive face that filled her with confidence, so strong, sincere and kindly was it. 'I only want to find out if I have talent enough to go on, and after years of study be able to act well in any of the good plays people never tire of seeing. I don't expected to be a Mrs. Siddons or a Miss Cameron, much as I long to be; but it does seem as if I had something in me which can't come out in any way but this. When I act I'm perfectly happy. I seem to live, to be in my own world, and each new part is a new friend. I love Shakespeare, and am never tired of his splendid people. Of course I don't understand it all; but it's like being alone at night with the mountains and the stars, solemn and grand, and I try to imagine how it will look when the sun comes up, and all is glorious and clear to me. I can't see, but I feel the beauty, and long to express it.'" -Louisa May Alcott, Jo's Boys

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