Thursday, May 14, 2009

Author Talk: Turning the Tables

Posted by Esther Hershenhorn

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, yes?

So, in that spirit, I invited author, children's book historian and critic Leonard S. Marcus, whose books were the subject of my post yesterday, to complete my Author Talk-related Writing Workout. His answer illuminates the all-important reader-writer connection.

You can learn more about Leonard Marcus and his books by visiting

Question: Did you enjoy reading?

Yes, but only after I got past the, for me, excruciatingly painful process of learning how to read. My kindergarten teacher, who started us on Dick and Jane rebuses, was a classic old-school battle-ax. Nothing progressive about her! She made learning to read all about giving the correct answers. I became so nervous in her presence that I would sometimes respond with the word “run” when the word I meant to say was “jump”!

Eventually I was assigned to a remedial reading teacher who saw me privately once a week and who noticed that, notwithstanding my difficulties, I was an extremely verbal child. With wonderful insight, it now seems to me, she suggested one day that I write a poem over the coming week and that I read it to her at our next session. I enjoyed the assignment and, because I had written the poem myself, had no trouble at all reading it.

Writing became gateway to reading, and once “inside,” I pursued my love of true stories about the past (a.k.a. history and biography) whenever I had the choice. As a fourth grader, I campaigned for John Kennedy, distributing leaflets in our neighborhood, and when Harper released a young readers edition of Profiles in Courage around the time of the inauguration, I got my parents to special order a copy for me at our local stationery store. (I still have it.) And in fifth grade our school librarian organized a writing club and I met the author she invited to talk to us. It was Jean George. Ever since then, reading and writing have been like breathing in and breathing out for me. Only harder, of course.

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