On Sunday, in honor of Mother's Day, I asked blog readers if their mothers had influenced their love of reading and books. Grrlpup, Bybee, Esperanza, P.J. Grath, Laura Canon, Calliope, and Linda provided some fascinating responses, sharing stories of mothers who read as well as one nervous mother who "as soon as I was old enough to read on my own <...> sent me to my room to read."
Calliope wrote about the stories and poems that her mother read to her, adding that she herself now works in a library, reading to children.
I was particularly interested to learn that Calliope's mother was poet Valerie Worth.
Although Ms. Worth published her first children's book in 1972, I'm ashamed to say I was unfamiliar with her work until I was given the assignment of writing a biographical/critical entry about her for a reference book in the mid-1990s.
I immediately went to the library and checked out all of Ms. Worth's poetry books (which include SMALL POEMS, MORE SMALL POEMS, and others) and her occasional work of fiction (CURLICUES, GYPSY GOLD, FOX HILL.)
Reading these books, I became entranced bythe author's gemlike poetry, written with both exquisite imagery and an economy of words. How about this one, called "dog":
Under a maple tree
The dog lies down,
Lolls his limp
Rests his long chin
Looks up, alert;
Chops, with heavy
Jaws, at a slow fly,
On his side,
His eyes: sleeps
in his loose skin.
Perfect! As is the entire book, full of word-pictures describing ducks ("His round-tipped wooden / Yellow-painted beak,") carrots ("Cool and hard, / Like some crisp metal") and marbles "poured clicking, / Water-smooth, back / To their bag."
And I was so overwhelmed by Ms. Worth's book of holiday poems, AT CHRISTMAS, that I immediately ordered a copy for myself so I could read it every year in December.
Excited that I had discovered this new (to me) writer, I then began working on the biographical section of my essay. That's when I discovered that Valerie Worth had died in 1994, at the age of sixty.
While it's true that she left a wonderful legacy of words, I couldn't help but feel sad that there would be no more Valerie Worth books.
I always feel this way when I hear about a children's book writer or illustrator who died "before their time."
Louise Fitzhugh of HARRIET THE SPY fame, dead at 46.
Caldecott winner David Wisniewski, dead at 49.
Robert C. O'Brien created a classic with MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, but didn't live to write much more, dying at age 55.
Once a teenage writing-illustrating sensation, John Steptoe was moving into a new phase of his career when he died at the age of 38.
Although she wrote scores of children's books including GOODNIGHT MOON, Margaret Wise Brown was only 42 when she died.
More recently there was Linda Smith, who sold eight children's books to HarperCollins, including WHEN MOON FELL DOWN and MRS. BIDDLEBOX, but died at age 39 before a single one was published.
Then there was Siobhan Dowd, who had just made a big splash with her novels A SWIFT PURE CRY and THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY when she died at age 47.
We'll always be grateful for the books these authors left behind...but you can't help but wonder how many other wonderful stories they would have created if their lives had not been cut short.
Is it presumptuous to imagine that, for some, their best work still lay ahead?
But rather than get depressed by these thoughts, I like to imagine that wherever they are now, these creators are still busy doing what they did best -- spinning wonderful new stories for another audience. Stories they will share with us someday when we join them.