Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why I Will Always Love Janey Moffat

     Janey, the middle Moffat, is, and will continue to be, one of my favorite characters in literature. I do, in fact, love all of the Moffats, as well as the town of Cranberry. And I love the book's illustrations by Louis Slobodkin too. The Moffat books remain in print and it is easy to see why. They are filled with warmth and tenderness and happiness in living. The family is poor, their father is dead and their mother is a seamstress, yet the stories aren't about angst, they are about dignity and respect and joy. That's why I go back to them over and over again. There are adventures in everyday living and although I have never been to a town like Cranberry, when I read about it, I feel that I know it. And I especially love the "oldest inhabitant" and want to wish "how do" to him!
     What is interesting is that Eleanor Estes told this same family story in her only adult novel, called "The Echoing Green". However, this book is so sad and depressing that I could barely get through it. Sometimes writing, especially writing for children, needs to be about good times. Otherwise, life is much too hard to endure.
      And speaking of dichotomy in writing, I just read two books by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, "Cross Creek" and "Cross Creek Cookery". I had always had an interest in her, mainly because I love her short story, "Jacob's Ladder" so much. Cross Creek was a beautifully evocative book of place and people, at her house in Florida where she wrote "The Yearling". It was also rather shockingly racist at times, although she may actually have been more liberal in her thinking than some southerners of the time. With that in mind, I just finished reading a wonderful biography written by her former maid, Idella. It is so interesting to read about "Mrs. Rawlings", from this point of view, and also to view a writer's life from a close observer. Mrs. Rawlings took to drink and would sometimes write with a bottle of whiskey by her side. I have often heard of her friendship with Zora Neale Hurston, and Idella does write of a lovely visit by Ms. Hurston, when the two writers had lunch and talked all day. However, when it came time to spend the night, Ms. Hurston had to sleep out in the maid's quarters, sharing a bed with Idella, even though there were empty bedrooms in the house.