I first read a book by Diana Wynne Jones in 1976. It was Cart and Cwidder and I was determined to find everything else she had written. But she was an English writer and she had only written four other books at that point, so her books were not easy to find. I waited, not patiently. Atheneum published Drowned Ammet and The Spellcoats. Reading them, I realized that this was a substantial writer. Ms. Wynne Jones had an astounding ability to weave a story.
Her stories pull you in from the first paragraph.
Drowned Ammet: “People may wonder how Mitt came to join in the Holand Sea Festival, carrying a bomb, and what he thought he was doing. Mitt wondered himself by the end.”
The Homeward Bounders: “Have you heard of the Flying Dutchman? No? Nor of the Wandering Jew? Well, it doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you about them in the right place; and about Helen and Joris, Adam and Konstam, and Vanessa, the sister Adam wanted to sell as a slave. They were all Homeward Bounders like me. And I’ll tell about Them too, who made us that way.”
Howl’s Moving Castle: “In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.”
What’s more, the fantasy in her books is original. They were stories unlike others I’d run across. Even when she was writing one of her loving send-ups of gamers or convention-goers, she found the trail of unexpected delight in each of her books. You may watch the movie Howl’s Moving Castle (Boston Globe Horn Book Honor), but it will not thrill you in the same way the book does. Ms. Wynne Jones’ sense of humor, her imagination, the way she finds the right word for the moment … these are not evident in the movie.
Different readers will name a different series of her books, or a single title, as their favorite. Whether it’s the Chrestomanci books (read Charmed Life first; it won the Guardian Medal) or the Dalemark Quartet (I enjoy Cart and Cwidder the most) or one of the Castle books (there are three) or the Derkholm books (Dark Lord of Derkholm is a fan favorite) or Hexwood or Enchanted Glass (most recently published and immensely enjoyable), you won’t find anything predictable in her storytelling.
Born in 1934, she was a child who experienced war in England. The oldest of three sisters, her parents were teachers. As Ms. Wynne Jones remembers her parents, they weren’t particularly loving, nor did they coddle their children. She felt that she and her sisters raised themselves to a great extent. Born in London, they moved to Wales, to avoid the war, then went to York, in the Lake District. The family lived in John Ruskin’s secretary’s house. The children of that house were models for the famous four in Amazons and Swallows—John, Susan, Titty, and Roger—and Diana Wynne Jones was reminded of this connection periodically at home and at school.
She was a curious reader, trying everything she could, both fiction and nonfiction, classical and current. At the age of eight, she knew quite clearly that she was going to be a writer. As she wrote, “It was not a decision, or even a revelation. It was more as if my future self had leaned back from the years ahead and quietly informed me what she was. In calm certainty, I went and told my parents. ‘You haven’t got it in you,’ my mother said. My father bellowed with laughter. He had a patriarch’s view of girls: they were not really meant to do anything.”
Eventually, in 1953, she attended St. Anne’s College, Oxford. There she had the good fortune to listen to lectures by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Shortly after graduation, she met John Burrows. “… instantly I knew I was going to marry this man. It was the same calm and absolute certainty that I had had when I was eight. And it rather irked me, because I hadn’t even looked at him properly and I didn’t know whether I liked him, let alone loved him.” She did. They married in 1956, lived for a short time in several English cities, and traveled for a bit to America where Mr. Burrows taught at Yale. In 1976, the couple moved to Bristol, where they lived up until the time of her death. They had three sons, all of whom are grown.
Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, she continued to write, planning out her next books. She died on March 26, 2011. Earwig and the Witch will be published later this year.
Diana Wynne Jones’ body of work is stout and hale. We, her readers, are grateful.
Steven Kroll grew up in New York City, the son of a diamond merchant and a lady of society. But, as he explains, “I also had my Upper West Side neighborhood, a wonderful ethnic stew of Jewish, Latino, Chinese, and Viennese. Wandering those streets, experiencing the restaurants and the pastry shops, the delicatessens and the movie theater, the corner drug store and the corner book shop, I began to recognize a wider world, a world outside my own that would make me want to tell stories, travel, and be a writer.”
Steven attended Harvard University, from which he received a degree in American history and literature. He moved to London to take a job as editor at Chatto and Windus, a renowned publishing firm. Later, he worked as an editor at Holt, Rinehart and Winston in New York. He reviewed books for, and was editor of, the Transatlantic Review.
The urge to write stories was strong, so Mr. Kroll retired from editing and worked for four years to become a published author. After many rejection letters, he met Margery Cuyler, who was an editor working at Holiday House. She took a shine to Steven Kroll and published a number of his books. Working with other editors and houses as well, Mr. Kroll wrote 96 books, including picture books, nonfiction, and young adult novels. Three more books are set to be published in the 2011-2012 season.
In 1997, Steven married Kathleen Beckett, a freelance writer whose specialties are travel, food, and style. They lived in New York City and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Steven Kroll died from complications following elective surgery. He was 69 years old.
The author of Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida never imagined that he would achieve national prominence.
He was born on February 21, 1954, the fourth of 12 children born to a family living in Fresno, California, where they were migrant farm workers. Victor was driven to write, which bemused his brothers and sisters. He did well in school. In fact, in a 1996 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Martinez said that in high school his guidance counselor informed him that with his excellent grades and test scores, he should aim high and consider a career as a welder. He persisted and went to California State-Fresno. The poet Philip Levine encouraged him to try for the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. He received it, and taught there for a while, but he resigned—he wanted to write. It was worth his while. He met his wife, Tina Alvarez, when she took his class at Stanford.
Martinez felt strongly about telling the truth with his writing. Sometimes that worked for publication, but often it did not. When he learned in 1996 that Parrot in the Oven was nominated for a National Book Award for young adult fiction, he was certain he didn’t have a chance. When the book was selected for this honor, he was cast in the limelight. The book also won a Pura Belpré Award from the American Library Association. The book is somewhat autobiographical, dealing with violence, gangs, and poverty. Today, it’s a part of the curriculum in many American high schools.
Victor Martinez died February 18, 2011. He died from a malignant tumor caused by exposure to pesticides when he worked in the fields as a young boy.
Long-time editor and publisher of the finest children’s literature, Margaret McElderry has passed away at the age of 98. As she was fond of telling the story, she was told by a career advisor, “You have absolutely nothing to offer publishing. Why don’t you consider library work?” Thank goodness she didn’t listen. Ms. McElderry is the editor who brought us The Borrowers, Ginger Pye, The Dark is Rising, The Riddlemaster of Hed, and the Green Knowe books.
After graduating from Mount Holyoke in 1933, Ms. McElderry attended the Carnegie Library School in Pittsburgh, her hometown. She then went to work at the New York Public Library for Anne Carroll Moore, the first Superintendent of Children’s Work, cataloguing books and absorbing the literature. When Frances Clarke Sayers succeeded Ms. Moore, Sayers held a session in her office once a week to “educate the eye.” How I wish I could have been there! McElderry and a small group of women gathered after hours to “learn as much as we could about graphics and printing and illustrating.” She worked in London during World War II in the office of war intelligence. When she returned to New York in 1945, it was as head of the children’s department at Harcourt Brace. Her contemporaries were the other now-legendary editors in the field: Ursula Nordstrom, May Massee, Elizabeth Reilly, Alice Dalgliesh, Louise Seaman Bechtel … those we knew as the “ladies in white gloves.”
In 1972, Harcourt Brace dismissed her, saying that “the wave of the future has passed you by.” She moved to Atheneum, where she became the first children’s editor to have her own imprint, Margaret K. McElderry Books. The imprint still exists nearly 30 years later, although others have come and gone. Atheneum was purchased by Macmillan and it is now a part of Simon & Schuster, but the imprint continues to select, edit, and publish fine books for children.
This writer will always remember the opportunity she had to hear Ms. McElderry speak in 1998. A long-time fan of the books Margaret McElderry chose to publish, especially the fantasy books she edited during the 1970s, it was a chance to observe firsthand the gracious, lively, kind, and exceptionally smart woman who helped to change the face of children’s literature and mentored many who have followed. When Will Stanton asked Merriman Lyon, “You mean she was one of the Old Ones?” I’d like to think he was not only referring to Miss Greythorne, but also to Margaret McElderry. A true representative of the Light.
It’s up to us now.
For thousands of children born since 1986, reading means the Redwall series. Whether they were first hooked on books by the exploits of Matthias, Cluny, Martin the Warrior, and Jacques’ many memorable characters.
With 21 books in 29 languages having sold more than 20 million copies, Jacques was a successful writer and he took great pleasure in his success. It allowed this once-poor young boy to do things he had never dreamed possible. The twenty-second, and final, volume in the Redwall series, The Rogue Crew, will be published in May by Penguin.
Although he loved to write from the age of 10, he spent a good deal of his life as a storyteller. On his delivery route as a milkman, Jacques was invited to tea at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind. He volunteered to read to the children there. Becoming dissatisfied with all the stories “filled with angst,” he created his own, set in the forest in and around Redwall Abbey. For seven months, he handwrote an 800-page manuscript, which he eventually handed to his former English teacher for critique. Unbeknownst to Jacques, that teacher took the manuscript to several publishers.
Born in Liverpool on June 15, 1939, Brian Jacques lived there all his life. He went to St. John’s School in Kirkdale until he was 15, when he joined the merchant marine. He worked as a truck driver, a bobby, a firefighter, a playwright, and radio show host. “Jakestown,” his show, was on BBC Radio Merseyside for 20 years. But most of all, his fans are glad he became a writer. He became a patron at that Royal Wavertree School for the Blind, made possible by his ability to write books that so many people eagerly awaited reading. Of that, he was very proud.
He passed away in February 5, 2011.