I urge you all to get your hands on the July/August 2008 Horn Book Magazine in order to read for yourself Laura Amy Schlitz’s Newbery speech. While seeing Laura perform it was magical, I’m happy to say that it also reads beautifully on the pages of the magazine. And editor Mary Lee Donovan’s profile is absolutely wonderful too, a dialogue complete with footnotes, a clever reference to those in the winning book itself.
And I really urge those who read Marc Aronson’s thoughts about the speech to read it for yourselves especially if you are planning on weighing in on the issue as Colleen Mondor suggests you do. “Facts are necessary, facts are useful, facts are fascinating. But stories enlarge our lives.” said Laura. “They awaken us to color and depth and pattern. They help us make sense of a random world.”
I recently read Laura’s biography, The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer who Dug for Troy. What fascinated Laura and caused her to research and write Schliemann’s story was the lack of clarity — that some of the facts (even in the man’s own diary) were possibly, nay likely, fabricated, made-up. The fact of this likely fabrication of facts fascinates me too, I can tell you. It is interesting. And interesting is the key word. In her speech, Laura described her young listeners’ preference for an interesting story over the true one. And then how she overheard them as, true story forgotten, they passed on the interesting one. The one about the librarian and the bear. (Interested? Find a copy of the July/August Horn Book pronto!)
Trails of fact and story, of truth and fiction. Dorothy Bradford, of the Mayflower, killed herself. Fact? Fiction? Which do you want? The true story or the interesting story? Poor woman, it is the interesting one that continues today to be thought of as true. Annoyed as I am by this I nonetheless believe that we cannot totally control facts when they go out into the world. Whether it is Laura telling me an interesting story or me creating one of my own from the true story — either way, imaginative thinking is what is going on.
For whether we read a story that someone made for us, a true one or an interesting one, or take the facts to create a story for ourselves — either way we are using our imaginations to create a narrative. These narratives can be huge — say the nation-building of 18th century America or small — say the examination of a particular individual and his or her contribution to life on this planet. Either way, the facts of these bits of history are made into narratives, to make them come alive, fiction or fact — not sure the difference, the dichotomy, the polarization is as great as some make it to be.
I’m interested always in imaginative thinking. To do history you have to be able to place yourself, imagine yourself, empathize, and otherwise think about a past time, a time that you have not experienced. Similarly, to enjoy a work of fiction you have to buy into it, be able to imagine yourself into that setting that you have not experienced. As I continue to think about children, their learning, their thinking, and their interaction with books I’ll continue to think about the complexity of our imaginations and ways of engaging with art, with truth, with facts, with story.