Trumpet of the Swan

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan, a book though perhaps not as well known as Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little is nevertheless brilliant. It tells the story of Louis, a trumpeter swan, who for some reason is born without a voice. Over the course of the book he learns to express himself in his own unique fashion, first by playing an actual brass trumpet (his father nabs it for him at a music store) and then by learning to read and write.

There are White's usual gorgeous descriptions of nature, like this one: The sun shone down, strong and steady. Ice was melting; patches of open water appeared on the pond. Louis and Serena felt the changing world, and they stirred with new life and rapture and hope. There was a smell in the air, a smell of earth waking after its long winter. There's the fun of a good story, expertly told. And for me, the parent of a son on the autism spectrum, there's a special resonance and poignancy to the plot. It is, after all, the tale of someone who can't communicate the way his peers do, but who finds his own path to making himself understood. In the end, we all find our voice.

Happy 50th birthday, Louis the swan!

January 2020

A Lover of Words

My father died last month, at age 93. I've been going through his papers, and one of the treasures I discovered is a smallish sampling of the huge collection of 3 x 5 word cards he kept his entire life. When I was a little girl, I remember him carrying them around, testing himself--and my sisters and me--on vocabulary. Ironically, though his vocabulary was huge, his spelling was atrocious. He once asked me how to spell "bus," and he wasn't joking. The file cards are crammed with words he bumped into while reading or talking, along with their definition and usage, or quotes that tickled him. He had a deep appreciation for good writing, and committed a daunting number of his favorite speeches, plays, and poems to memory: to name just a few, Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson, Poe, Lincoln, and Churchill. For humor, he liked Yogi Berra, but nothing beat a good Mark Twain quip.

Reading the cards brings him back in a visceral and very welcome way. I don't have any 3 x 5 cards, but it is obvious to me that my path in life is, in no small measure, a gift from my dad.

October 2019

Julia Update

So much continues to happen with Julia, I'm happy to report. She is now an established character on Sesame Street. A book about her family, Family Forever, previously available only from Sesame Workshop, is now also available in hardcover from Barnes & Noble. Julia's brother, Samuel, as well as her mom and dad, all of whom I created for Family Forever, are now also bona fide Muppets. So, too, is Julia's adorable dog, Rose. And now there's a third book devoted to Julia. This one, Circle of Friends, presents an important message about bullying and about the importance of having a supportive community. You can access it on sesamestreet.org/autism.

Yay, Julia! I hope she continues to make friends, increase understanding of autism, and spread the message that all of us are amazing.

May 2019

People of the Book

I just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime--and actually, first-in-a-lifetime!--trip to Israel. The trip was courtesy of PJ Library, a fantastic nonprofit run by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation that distributes free books with Jewish content every month to children all over the U.S. and in a number of other countries as well.  Eighteen children's book authors and artists (a wonderfully talented and generous group) traveled around Israel and were treated to one fantastic experience after another:  kayaking on the Dead Sea; star-gazing in the desert; walking on a two-thousand-year-old pilgrimage road under Jerusalem not yet opened to the public; listening to prize-winning Israeli authors; lunch and discussion with Jews who came from Ethiopia. And, possibly my favorite: a behind-the-scenes look at the Dead Sea Scrolls and the restoration process.  All told, I have a new appreciation for and understanding of the expression "People of the Book." 

February 2019

DeadSeaScroll

Trick Arrr Treat

As a kid, I was obsessed with Halloween. Like most kids, I guess. I mean, free candy! Candy was extremely rare in our house, so each year on October 31, I’d amass as much of it as possible, come back to the house for the sister swap (I had three sisters, we each had different preferences, and usually at least one of us had braces that made some treats taboo), and then put my final collection in a shoe box. Showing willpower that I can only dream about today, I strictly rationed my stash so that it lasted as long as possible. My record was the year I stretched it till Valentine’s Day.


So it’s fitting that I now have books that bookend Halloween and Valentine's Day. Trick Arrr Treat, published a couple of years ago, started with the piratical wordplay of the title, and then I just went along for the ride. Pirates were a big deal to my son when he was little. When we went to the beach, we’d bring along his pirate hat and flag, and we’d bury some kind of treasure for him to dig up. This year, I have a new book, called A Valentine for Frankenstein. It's kind of a Halloween-Valentine's Day mash-up, and a story about feeling comfortable in your own (green) skin.


In both of these stories, one of the best parts of the writing process was coming up with the characters’ names. I think everyone should have a pirate name and/or a monster name. What’s yours?

Leslie Kimmelman
10/18

trickarrrtreat ValentineFrankenstein

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