I’m still new enough to the children’s literature industry to be less than 100% certain that it’s okay to quote an entire paragraph of a newly released book. Is it even worse if I paraphrase? Do any of you care even a little bit? Well anyway, for the past couple of weeks I’ve been on something of a book-buying tear, which is not terrific news for my budgetary considerations, but must be scoring me some positive karma in terms of the kidlit world. Friday night’s binge landed me MOSTLY MONSTERLY, the latest from ace picture book author Tammi Sauer (and illustrated by the fantastic Scott Magoon), Nahoko Ueshashi’s MORIBITO: GUARDIAN OF THE SPIRIT, which won the 2009 Mildred L. Batchelder award and which I’ve never actually seen in a brick-and-mortar store before, and the brand-spanking new YA fantasy novel PLAIN KATE, by poet, particle physicist and debut novelist Erin Bow.
I love PLAIN KATE, just so’s ya know. LOVE it. The characters are complex and compelling, the spooky parts are genuinely spooky, and the emotional depth is nearly bottomless. A wonderful book. The eponymous protagonist, Plain Kate Carver, is stirring and courageous, but in a nuanced, believable way. Plain Kate is a wood carver of unsurpassed skill, and as a budding master of her trade she’s enmeshed in matters of craft and artistry! Whoa, I love that! The titular quote for this blog post comes from a passage in which Plain Kate recalls the words of her father, a master carver who taught her everything she knows:
When you are carving a narrow point, like the tail of this fish, her father had said to her, big hands over her little ones, and the carving beneath them, this is a time of danger. The knife may slip. It may follow a grain and spoil the line. There may be a flaw deep in the wood that will snap your work in two. You will want to leave the tail thick and crude; that is safer. A master carver will be brave, and trust the wood. Things will find their shape. Kate, My Star. Lift your knife.
Man alive, doesn’t that just slay you? I adore that paragraph. It speaks volumes about Kate, her father, their relationship, his philosophy about his calling, his faith and trust in her…and it also speaks very much to my writerly self, because all those statements are true for us writer-types as well. Metaphorically speaking, anyway.
I’m happy to have discovered this book because I think it heralds the arrival of a new master in the world of kidlit, and also because it really clarifies and affirms some of my own thoughts about what an incredible, maddening, crazy-making and euphoric thing it is to pursue a career as a writer. My ripped-from-the-pages-of-PLAIN KATE metaphor isn’t perfect, of course. As writers, I don’t know that we ever face a moment where we nick the grain of our story in a way that’s irreparable, or that shatters the thing completely in half. We can always revise! Hooray for the magic of revision! But writing, despite its solitary and sedentary nature, is made up of ceaseless, repeated acts of bravery.
We have to trust in our own abilities, right? We must have faith in the possibilities inherent in our story ideas, and that they will reveal their strength and beauty with time and effort. We have to fight off the temptation to embrace crude and thick creative decisions, which may be safer and easier. We must be brave, and trust that our books will find their shape if we persevere. And eventually we have to take the bravest step of all, which is sending our work out into the wild and risking indifference, rejection or even outright hostility.
So kudos to you, fellow writers! Kudos for your acts of bravery, which are legion. I feel very inspired. I feel very much a part of the great continuum of children’s literature, and I’m always tickled beyond measure when those feelings are brought on by reading an exquisite new book. Life is good, babies. Life is very good.