Mount Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts hosts children’s book authors, and recently Patricia MacLachlan was a speaker. Remember Sarah, Plain and Tall? It was the first book that made me cry as an adult. Mandatory reading for my children when they were in third grade.
Sarah, Plain and Tall also won the coveted Newbery Award. That’s the brass ring, the Holy Grail in children’s literature. My copy is very worn and well-loved. Patricia smiled when she saw the book and said, “This is one of the first copies.” It seemed to bring back memories for her.
When I arrived at the speaking event, I was surprised. The room was old and lovely- fireplace, sofas, big casement windows. It was filled with students from the children’s literature course… and me!
“Please, come up front. I’d be happy to answer any questions before we begin”, she said. “I don’t see well with my macular degeneration, so please come closer.”
The students didn’t move. I did! I walked up and introduced myself, with my books in hand, including The Poet’s Dog, her most recent book. It is outstanding! My husband the book lover and voracious reader claims, “This is the best piece of literature I have ever read.” He is right. The opening sentences in the book reads, “Dogs speak words. But only poets and children hear.” The story is told through the dog. I wrote a blog post on this book alone last October.
“It should have won the Newbery” I said, holding up my book to the author. And I meant it. Patricia smiled and said, “Thank you. Please call me Patty.” Wow!
We chatted a bit and I looked at the big coffee table in front of her, filled with the books she had written. There were plenty, including a picture book that I know well, The Iridescence of Birds. It’s the story of Henri Matisse as a little boy, and how he found color in his dreary French town, and was both encouraged and influenced by his mother.
I had forgotten that Patricia MacLachlan wrote the book. I was sorry I hadn’t brought it along for her to sign. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “I have that book, too. It’s wonderful. I’m sorry I didn’t bring it along.”
Patty: “Actually, this is my favorite book. I loved writing it.”
Me: “I read this all the time in my preschool class, especially when I introduce artists and their art. I’m sure you know that Matisse’s grandson lives in my town of Groton.”
Patty: “No, I didn’t know. I should probably send him a copy of the book. What do you think?”
What? This world famous author is asking me if I think she should send Matisse a copy of her book about his grandfather?
Me: “Of course you should. He would love the book.”
Patricia MacLachlan gave me her email address, and the next day I looked up Paul Matisse’s address and sent it to her. After a few emails back and forth, she mailed him the book along with a note that read:
“I am typing this letter to you because I can’t read my own writing. The redeeming quality of being this blind is that when I look into the mirror I look beautiful like an impressionist painting.”
Paul Matisse wrote back to say that he thought it was charming, and he planned to share it with his grandchildren when they visited this summer.