Monday, March 4, 2013

Lois Lenski Lecture

I love when my writing life comes full circle in beautiful ways.  I especially love it when as a grownup writer I have the opportunity to pay homage in some way to the books I loved as a child.  And most of all I love it when this opportunity has anything to do with my most beloved books of all: the Betsy-Tacy books of Maud Hart Lovelace,illustrated by Lois Lenski and Vera Neville.

Based on the author's own childhood at the turn of the last century in Mankato, Minnesota (Deep Valley, in the books), the series (published during the 1940s and 1950s) chronicles the small adventures of a trio of friends, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, from Betsy's fifth birthday party through to Tib's wedding. Betsy loves to write, and in her I found the inspiration for my own career as a writer.

One high point of my life as a writer, which came a few years ago, was the chance to do a book signing at Tacy's House in Mankato, now maintained as a museum by the Betsy-Tacy Society, of which I am an ardent member.  Another highlight was presenting some of my scholarly work on the presentation of the Syrian characters in the books at a Betsy-Tacy fandom conference.

And tonight I have the honor of delivering the 20th annual Lois Lenski Children's Literature Lecture at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. You can well imagine how ecstatic I was when I received that invitation!

I'm not going to be lecturing about Betsy-Tacy tonight. Instead my talk title is "The Dilemma of Didacticism," interrogating the long-standing alleged taboo against writing children's books that try to teach a moral lesson. I'm going to give a qualified defense of didacticism, using as an example not Betsy-Tacy but another book I love almost as much: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

But I know that somewhere in the heaven where fictional characters live on, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib will be smiling down on me, the girl who grew up to be a writer from loving them so deeply and so well.

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