An Interview with Newbery Medal-Winning Author Clare Vanderpool, Part 2

walking-away-by-simple-insomnia-on-flickrClare Vanderpool, Newbery-Medal winning author of the novels Moon over Manifest (Delacorte, 2010) and Navigating Early (Delacorte, 2013), got her start by attending a writing workshop at The Milton Center, with which Image was associated in its early years and whose programs are now run by Image. While under a Milton fellowship in the mid-90s, I read one of her earliest works and now discuss her accomplishments in a two-part interview.

Moon over Manifest, set in depression-era Kansas, features 12-year-old Abilene Tucker, whose itinerant father arranges for her to stay in a small Kansas town where he spent his boyhood. There, Abilene is met by a variety of townspeople that have a story as mysterious to her as the reason her father has sent her away. Navigating Early, set in post-WWII New England, tells the tale of young Jack Baker, whose military father puts him in a Maine boys’ school following the death of Jack’s mother. Jack has to make his way in a new world, and finds himself befriended by a strange boy, Early Auden, who sets the two of them on an adventure to find something that everyone, except Early, believes is lost forever.

Continued from yesterday.

AGH: The idea of a youth setting out on a journey, on a “quest” to find himself, is in the line of romances, of chivalric literature, where the hero sets off to prove himself and earn his name. The second novel even has parallels to the Fisher King myth. Was that kind of literature an influence?

CV: I’m sure it was. My two sons grew up reading Tolkien and the Redwall books, so I knew how much questing books were valued by young readers. I read these books as an adult, but really all the books I’ve read throughout my life have gone into a story vault and somehow come out when I need them. [Read more…]

What My Kid Knew about Kubo

kubo[Spoiler alert: This post is about the end of the movie, Kubo and the Two Strings. However, since, I believe, the ending nearly spoils the film itself, you can read this and still enjoy the other, real pleasures of the movie.]

In the dramatic climax of Kubo and the Two Strings, our young hero defies the cold will of his grandfather, the Moon King, standing in a graveyard with nothing but his shamisen and delivering a (frankly) pretty forgettable speech about stories, memories, and identity.

His point, anyhow, is that our memories are our stories and our stories make us who we are. The ghosts of the dead rise up from the graves to reinforce this, and through some incomprehensible mechanism Kubo and the ancestors break the power of the Moon King.

In the wake of the battle, the Moon King has been transformed into an old man with no memory. “Who am I? What am I doing here?” he asks the gathered townspeople.

They quickly jump in with answers: “You’re one of the kindest, most generous citizens of our community,” they say (or something along these lines). “You’re loved by everyone.” A child adds, “And you always give children candy.” [Read more…]

Purple Light in Sarajevo

Sarajevo MountainsMy fellowship liaison, Sevko, drove, and his gaze flicked across teenagers spilling over the sidewalks. The center of town spread within the cradle of the mountains, lit by the pink and blue haze of underground clubs. Gray office and apartment buildings faced the street, many of them gashed open, levels of exposed brick and wood open to view.

As we drove, it was hard not to notice that this place was beautiful and that the air tasted like all air that lives near mountains. It was hard not to notice that the mountains were built with cemeteries, ridges and floes of graves cupping the city.

I was in Sarajevo as part of a month-long fellowship to study environmental policy. I’d grown uncomfortable with the lack of humanism in environmental debates in the U.S., and I wanted love of people and love of nature in the same breath. [Read more…]

The Iron Cross: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 1

LaStoriaI didn’t know Julia well.

The first time I saw her, she was sitting at the far end of the table around which our language class met. Although I knew the instructor, Chiara, it was my first day with this group of students who for years had gathered in Chiara’s dining room to discuss classic books in Italian.

That day I was the last one to arrive, and when I entered the room the group was already engaged in friendly pre-class conversation. As I took my seat, six pairs of eyes looked up at me, six mouths chorused “Piacere” with American twangs, and six hands reached across the table to shake mine.

But the person I noticed most was Julia, a trim woman about my age with a strawberry bob and a smile like a lamp.

Since I was new to the class, Chiara asked the veterans to introduce themselves: Filippo, Becca, Davide, Laura, Carla—all genial, interesting people who loved everything Italian.

But again, it was Julia who drew me. A psychologist with a PhD, she seemed warm, spoke Italian perfectly, listened to others with attention, as if they were the center of her world. Of all the members of the group, she was the one I hoped to make my friend.

[Read more…]

Sorting Through the Past

I’ve been cleaning out an attic—not my own—along with drawers, closets, shelves, storehouses, and barns —also, not my own, or at least not primarily. I don’t live here anymore, though I’ve always called this place home.

I’m doing these things in preparation for the sale of a farm that has been lived in continuously, and happily, for forty years. During that time, the house accumulated the contents of others’ houses, boxed up and moved in when the people who owned them grew sick and old and eventually died. Life was too busy to sort through all of it, so generation piled upon generation, like the Iron Age after the Bronze.

In the heat of a Southern summer, in the eaves of the old house, dimly lit and with little ventilation, old cardboard boxes must be gone through. They crumble and split at the touch, disintegrating like frail pastilles. The close air is heavy with the scent of insulation, musty paper, aged cloth, bitter red coins, and for some reason, the contents of ladies’ purses that I remember from my youth—the patent leather kind with hard metal clasps: Kleenex, face powder, rouge, lipstick, and mints. [Read more…]