Roots of my empathy, exotic ideas, and the bread truck
I spent a lovely day presenting to four classes at the Webber Academy in Calgary yesterday. The students were in grades 4, 5 & 6. They had some interesting questions. After hearing me read the first chapter of my debut novel Dead Frog on the Porch. One boy asked how authors get such “exotic ideas to write about.” Hmmm giant genetically stretched frogs and protags who want to save the world one frog at a time – don’t all authors have ideas like that? We did a writing exercise (and they created some awesome writing) and I talked about how writers write what they know and what they feel.
Then another boy asked what books had inspired me.
This got me thinking about what I read as a child. My parents had a den/library in our house where I discovered many books over the course of my life and that’s where I found my favourtie book Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.
There was the requisite Funk and Wagnall Encyclopedia set, and up until recently my parents thought that one of their grandchildren could use them (Hello! Have you heard of the Internet?) Of course there were books from the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. My brothers gravitated toward the Hardy Boys while I read every Nancy Drew mystery and swapped books with my childhood friend Sandy. I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
But there was one book that I don’t know the title of. It was a small hard-backed blue children’s book about children in a Japanese dye sweatshop that profoundly affected me and I believe formed the roots of my empathy. The bookcase was where I hid the candy the bread man gave me (seriously, how old am I? The bread man?!) that I’m pretty sure my brother ate. Every time I go back home I search the bookcase for that thin volume and the candy. I’m sure they are both in there somewhere.
Does anyone know the book I am talking about? It would have been published in the 60s or before?
I am always thrilled to be in a school library where the teachers and librarians are passionate about reading and writing, and the Webber Academy was such a place. It’s a school full of readers and budding writers.
What books helped form the roots of your empathy?
P.S.: The bread truck of my childhood looked nothing like this; but, it did run over my friend Jane's wiener dog.