"I write about a problem," said Patricia MacLachlan recently at the Children's Book Luncheon of the National Council of Teachers of English. "But more than trying to find answers to the problem is that more questions are posed. Writing to me is needing to make connections between these problems and answers. It's the process itself."
MacLachlan, award-winning author, is a master at creating strong characters who become memorable to young readers. Intertwined with the characters of Sarah, Minna, Cassie, Emma, Arthur and the wizards Tomorrow and Murdoch, is a sensitive and relevant theme: looking beyond self to a world just waiting to be discovered.The author has done this in many ways, particularly with caring parents and grandparents:
Grandpa is blind. He doesn't see the house the way I do. He has his own way of seeing . . . .
He tunes our cello without looking. I play with a music stand and music before me. I know all about sharps and flats. I see them on the music. But Grandpa plays them. They are in his fingers. For a moment I close my eyes and play through Grandpa's eyes . . . .
---THROUGH GRANDPA'S EYES, Harper and Row, 1980.
The theme of looking beyond self is developed through eccentric families, ribbons of bright colors to tie in your hair and socks that truly match:
"Everything is so neat and uncluttered," said Cassie. "And safe." Margaret Mary put her hand on Cassie's shoulder, and they looked at each other in the mirror, Margaret Mary so slim and fair-haired, Cassie, her hair so wild, her eyes so sad.
"Only safe and uncluttered on the outside, Cass. This is all the outside. It doesn't matter. It only matters if you're safe and uncluttered on the inside . . . ."
--CASSIE BINEGAR, Harper and Row, 1982.
A light is what the music teacher promises Minna Pratt when she finally finds her vibrato:
Minna looks out the bus window and thinks about her life. Her one life. She likes artichokes and blue fingernail polish and Mozart played too fast. She loves baseball, and the month of March because no one else much likes March, and every shade of brown she has ever seen. But this is only one life. Someday, she knows, she will have another life. A different one. A better one. Mogrew knows this, too. Mogrew is 10 years old. He knows nearly everything. He knows, for instance, that his older sister, Minna Pratt, age 11, is sitting patiently next to her cello waiting to be a woman . . .
---THE FACTS AND FICTIONS OF MINNA PRATT, Harper and Row, 1988.
Being safe and uncluttered is what Arthur discovers also when he visits his uncle's farm and finds a chicken that only responds to being spoken to in French and discovering the way to calm a sow who is having a litter of pigs is to sing to it:
For a moment, his binocular eyes turned inward on himself; a small boy, sitting on a hay mound with a russet chicken . . . .
and then later
Suddenly something inside Arthur seemed to move, to shift, to open up a bit like a door opening in a dark room and letting in a sliver of hall light...
---ARTHUR THE VERY FIRST TIME, Harper and Row, 1980.
It is indeed a woman, named Sarah, who looks beyond self to a world waiting to be discovered. It is this woman who arrives to become a wife and mother on the plains:
Sarah came in the spring. She came through green grass fields that bloomed with Indian paintbrush, red and orange, and blue-eyed grass . . . .
It was Sarah who left the seashore to come to the prairies.
It is this woman who rides to town alone leaving the children in fear that she will not return.
"Dust." said Caleb. He climbed the porch and stood on the roof. Dust, and a yellow bonnet!
Papa took the reins and Sarah climbed down from the wagon.
Caleb burst into tears. "Seal was very worried."
"We thought you might be thinking of leaving us . . . because you miss the sea."
"No." Sarah said. "I will always miss my old home, but the truth of it is, I would miss you more."
--SARAH PLAIN AND TALL, Harper & Row, 1985, Newberry Award.
Whether Patricia MacLachlan writes of singing the headlines, prisms of seven kisses in a row, she gives us the thing Cassie Binegar discovered . . . changing patterns, each different, each beautiful. Like the kaleidoscope.
When asked about her books collectively, Patricia MacLachlan admits that developing such themes is like "walking backwards to find out out who you are."
After reading Patricia MacLachlan's books and talking to this sensitive author, I discovered that it is a better world jut waiting to be discovered.