From the Heart’s Land

I have a fairy book-daughter.  Her name is Laura and she lives with her family in Indiana.  The heartland.  And that’s appropriate because Laura is at the very center of my heart.

Kathi with Laura

Kathi with Laura

I first discovered Laura several years ago when one of my faculty mates, Rita Williams Garcia, told me about a young girl who had started a blog, “Laura’s Life.”  Like her mother before her, Laura had made a decision that she was going to read every one of the Newbery Award books, plus the Honor books, and then write about each one on her blog.  Soon enough, she finished most of those Newbery books and branched out into current titles.

Laura with her mom, Rylin.

Laura with her mom, Rylin.

Laura is a discerning reader, the kind every author dreams of.  She wrestles with books, reads between the lines, sets aside the ones that don’t speak to her, loves up the ones that do. If ever there was a reason to write for children and young adults, Laura is that reason. In fact, there have been several moments in the middle of writing a story when I’ve stopped and wondered, “what would Laura say about this?”

But last fall, I noticed that her blog entries had become fewer and farther between.  Laura was quiet.  Too quiet.  If you go to her site, you’ll read that she has mitochondrial disorder, a condition that sometimes catches up with her.  Last fall it took over.  Laura was fading.  And there seemed to be no answers, no solutions.

How in the world do we consider a loss like Laura?  I couldn’t even contemplate it.  There had to be something the world could do.  At least, that is, the world that Laura had become such an integral part of—children’s books. So, with the permission of her mother Rylin, I sent out an e-mail message to several fellow children’s authors and illustrators and invited them to send Laura an autographed book.  Within days books began to arrive.  They flew in from every state in the nation, from Canada, from Australia, from everywhere.

The message was forwarded, and more books were signed and dropped into the mail.  Then the inimitable Betsy Bird—a fairy book-mother if there ever was one– posted the letter on her School Library Journal website, A Fuse 8 Production, and more books found their way, each one personally autographed, along with cards and notes, all filled with good wishes.  Imagine it!  Books and books and books.  Wishes and wishes and wishes.  More than a hundred books winged their ways into Laura’s hands.  Katherine Applegate even sent her a stuffed gorilla to go along with a copy of The One and Only Ivan. 

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Laura got better.  I know that modern medicine deserves recognition, not to mention the love and support of Laura’s immediate and extended family and friends.  But I believe that those books, with their attendant wishes, played a role.  After all, haven’t every one of us, at some time or another, been saved by a book?  By a wish?

What Laura doesn’t know, and what I want you to know, is that this simple act by the members of the fairy book-tribe also saved me.  Last fall brought with it my own host of health issues, along with a heartbreaking disagreement among members of my family, all balled up with the increasing frailty of my mother-in-law.  As it turns out, need is never a one-way street.

So, this past weekend, I finally got to meet mom and daughter and to have dinner with them.  Let’s just say that love-beams were copiously exuded.  And then, much to my surprise, I received my most important medal!

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I promise to wear this wherever I go. I will wear it on behalf of all fairy book-people, not only the ones of you who sent books to this full-of-life girl who loves them so, but to all of you storytellers and artists and editors and agents and publishers and bookstore owners and librarians and teachers, all of you who participate in the wonderful making and distributing of children’s books.  I will also wear it in honor of our readers. What is our purpose without them? It reminds me that we can, each of us, live in the land of our hearts. We can, when all is said and done, save each other.  We can.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “From the Heart’s Land

  1. Richard Hardin

    Our children have enriched our lives beyond measure. And they are enriching the world. And now our grandchildren continue. And then you remind that they are yours as much as ours. How can love be explained?

  2. I love this post, Kathi. So heartfelt. And then, of course, I just had to read Laura’s blog which I thoroughly enjoyed! Although I don’t remember reading Newbery winners when I was as young as 6, I remember waiting for news of the winners each year. Laura – hang in there. Calling books “the best pain medicine yet” warms my heart.

  3. It was Laura who told me how soon I’d learn my midwinter fate some two years ago when I’d thought the announcements were on the following Monday. Talk about being on top of the literary scene! I say we deem Laura the Enchanted Newbery Fairy.

  4. Love in words and story, played out in our realities. Thank you for pouring out this cup of mercy, Kathi.

  5. nina (N.A.) Nelson

    Thank you for sharing Laura’s story and your own, Kathi. We are so fortunate to be part of such a fairy book community where, when bad things happen, we all pour in to do what we can to rescue each other. Powerful stuff.

  6. I was moved by this piece, Kathi. Thank you for sharing this story of love, generosity and caring. It will stay with me for a long time.

  7. What a beautiful post. Laura is truly a dream reader.

  8. Kathi what a lovely tribute to Laura. A girl with heart, the books she reads with care and joy, and all of us who are fortunate enough to be engaged in their creation! What else is there? Thank you.

  9. Meg

    How lovely you both are! Thank you for letting us know how Laura is doing. She is such a treasure.

  10. I was so happy to be involved in this in some small way with my own books, and I thank you, Kathi, for your huge heart. But now I am thinking about every child in similar circumstances. If only we could band together and help them all. No more war; books for every child.

    • kathiappelt

      I know, Leda. I feel the same way. There are so many children who need our books. Thank goodness for libraries, yes? But I’ve long held the dream that if every child in every country could have a caring adult read to them every single day, the world would change. That’s my dream and I’m clinging to it.

  11. Deb Ruckman

    I had the pleasure of being Laura’s third grade teacher when she was midway through her Newbery journey. To say that she and her family have given me inspiration and endless feelings of reward as a teacher is an understatement. Laura’s dad, a fellow teacher, continues to inspire countless students at our high school. I love Laura and her family and can’t imagine life without having experienced her joy.

    • kathiappelt

      Deb, thanks for popping in here. The Rodgers family has touched so many lives. We’re all so lucky to know them.

  12. Martine Leavitt

    Kathy, I love you. What an angel heart you have. So honoured to be counted among your friends.

  13. Rose

    You did good, sister. I know you will shrug this off with a hand wave and say oh, it was nothing, other people were the ones who sent books, but i have to say, besides loving you, I admire you and journey daily to find the generosity of spirit of you!

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