Monday, December 14, 2015

The authors, the legends

I was trying to remember if celebrity-authored picture books were A Thing yet when I was growing up. I don't think so; I can't recall any celebrity children's books back then.

I would've found it odd to link authorship with a recognizable celebrity, since I'm not sure I even thought of authors as contemporary people. Fairy tales and myths and Aesop's fables seemed to be stories repeated for generations, with no single recognizable author. They just sort of materialized. And I viewed most books for children similarly: Make Way for Ducklings and Charlotte's Web and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass also seemed to have always existed. I was aware that some books had authors' names on them, but those authors didn't seem like real people. "Dr. Seuss" sounded like a made-up character (and indeed, it was a pseudonym); I had never heard of such a name as "Roald" (Dahl) before (and neither had my classmates, which was why they persisted in calling him "Ronald"). E.B. White hid behind those mysterious initials. Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain (another pseudonym!) and L. M. Montgomery were more accessible--their works carried more than a whiff of autobiography--but still, they had lived a long time ago, way back in olden times. Once Upon a Time.

As I got older, I became aware that authors were real people, many of whom were even still alive. And yet, they didn't seem like people you could run into at the grocery store or the bus stop. If pressed to imagine where they lived, I might have guessed they all lived up on a special mountain somewhere, or in cabins out in the woods. Well, maybe not Judy Blume--the suburban setting of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret was so familiar she might have been living in my own neighborhood. Except I was pretty sure she wasn't, because again, authors didn't live among boring people like me.

To me, authors were celebrities in their own right. They didn't usually appear on TV, but their names were IN PRINT. On shelves in public places such as LIBRARIES and BOOKSTORES. What more proof of fame could one need?

Of course, now that I am an author, all of this is hilarious to me. I am not remote or legendary, and I don't even get to spend most of my day writing.

With authors on social media and doing school visits nowadays, I doubt that children today think of authors as distant and mysterious, the way I once did. That's okay. But my old imaginings are good for a chuckle!

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