Monday, April 22, 2013

"Did I Choose You, Or Did You Choose Me?"

Publishers Weekly reports: "Esteemed children’s author E.L. Konigsburg, a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, in 1968; The View from Saturday, in 1997) and the only writer to have received both the Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor in the same year, died on Friday, April 19 at age 83."

My son read From the Mixed-up Files...when he was around 10. It made enough of an impression that I'm pretty sure he contemplated running away to a museum more than once, when his parents became too exasperating. For me, though, The View From Saturday was a defining book. The multiple voices. The interlinked, delicately crafted short stories. The way the book played with form and style. The Souls and their allies. And maybe especially quick-witted Julian Singh, a South Asian character, imperfect but in a time when there weren't many like him in children's books. And above all the teacher in a wheelchair. What an attitude she had--do we not need a Mrs. Olinski around today to face off against Core Standards and endless testfests?

Do books choose us or do we choose them? After reading The View From Saturday in 1996, I spent several weeks reading just about every book Elaine Konigsburg had written. Because this is what her books did, all of them. They drew me into their fictional worlds, but through the journey, whether it was to the Met or to Milan of da Vinci's time, they unmasked truths about here and now. They spoke to the odd, the eccentric, the unjust and the beautiful in ways that got under my skin and changed me. I returned to her books again and again as I struggled to find the hearts of my own stories.

Go in peace, Elaine Konigsburg. I never had the pleasure of meeting you, but I'm going to miss your voice. 

2 comments:

  1. Beautiful post, Uma. And so very true of Elaine Konigsburg work. I loved her historical books. She was a brilliant writer. I got to hear her speak at SCBWI in LA at my very first conference in 1995 and was completely overwhelmed and weepy.

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  2. Lovely post. I'm going to miss her voice, too.

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