The Great Gilly Hopkins: the kids, the neighborhood, what I was not

The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson. 1978.

When I was eight or so, I had to spent a lot of time at my great-grandparents’ house. It was a tiny, tumbledown thing with low ceilings. My Papaw and Mamaw didn’t move much. Neither did their faces. Mamaw had Alzheimer’s, so you couldn’t blame her; she mainly nodded and swayed in her towel-draped chair. Papaw was fine; his face was just set like that. He had the color and scowl of a cigar-store carving. He was not unkind, but he had little to say to me, or to anyone, and I did not know what to do with myself while I was there with my father.

The house had almost no privacy, and certainly no cable. If the weather was nice, I might go in the little backyard, and find some blackberries in season, but there was no seat and no shade. There was Mama-cat, who often lay in the driveway, but she had other local responsibilities, and she didn’t care to be much company. I wasn’t allowed to walk through the neighborhood, but I could see that there were children in the yard of the house across the street, and I wondered if I could make friends. Not those kids, I was told. Those are foster kids. They’re mean. One of them’s retarded. I’d leave them alone if I was you.

This place was where I imagined the world of Gilly Hopkins. Continue reading

Daphne’s Book: isolation, cars, stories

Daphne’s Book, Mary Downing Hahn. 1983.

It must have been 1988 or ’89 that I got hold of this one. I re-read Daphne’s Book often, but not all the way through, because I only liked being in one particular time of this book.

Daphne’s Book is told in the first person by Jessica, a seventh-grader. Her English teacher designates all of his students into teams of two for an inter-school Write-a-Book competition, in which the winning students will have their picture-book published. Jessica is assigned to work with Daphne, who is weird, arty, and essentially mute. Daphne is the seventh grade’s designated scapegoat, and Jessica is desperate to get out of associating with her, although the clear subtext is that she is beautiful, raven-haired and dresses like Stevie Nicks.

Continue reading

A new post series

Well! The semester is over and I am a person who can enjoy the “on line” world again.

What I want to do, now, with all the world before me, is to spend some time talking about the books that I spent a lot of time with as a child.

I don’t mean the all-star classics, the ones we all loved like Charlotte’s Web or the Ramona Quimby books. I don’t want to examine them critically, review the lives of the authors, or look up the afterlives of the books. I want to see who I was in the book – to understand why I spent so much time with it.

As a child, I liked spending time inside books. I re-read a lot. When you are grown, you generally want to experience a book in the one way: for novels, straight through, in and out; for nonfiction, reference and citation, unless of course it is a narrative and you switch to Novel mode. But when I was a kid, I would just read the first parts of a book again, or the last parts, because I wanted to be in the time that Meg had hot chocolate with Charles Wallace, or the time that Bilbo had to answer riddles from Gollum.

With my current access to ILL books from the college library system, I can go back and see what it was that I liked about these books. I can never know whether or not they were worth liking, not without being a child again. Since I am not, I can at least place these stories into a kind of context, if for no one else but me.