Reading a book can be a cathartic experience for some children, for some it could be a source of entertainment and for others it might just be a 'to do'. What ever be the case, knowing a little about what happens in the background, a little about the story of the author, how this person got the idea to write a book, etc., make the author more real rather than a name in print on the book cover.
Good Night Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian was introduced to me by a young reader at the Young Readers' Club. This was my first time with this author and hence I approached the book with an open mind, ready to take in what it had in store. World War II is raging in the background of this very heartwarming book. Children are sent to the country side to be taken care of as staying in the city is considered unsafe. They are sent to live with families on the countryside, families that typically have people who are not fit to go to war or have members of family lost to the war.
This book taught me many things. To start with, what it feels like to be a terrified child who is constantly on the edge thinking that he is going to be punished. The character, Willie, whose name is actually William, a perfectly capable boy finds himself in this rut of fear on account of which he doesn't experience the simple joys of childhood. He doesn't even have anyone whom he can call a friend. He has not been to school and does not know what play is. Willie finds himself at the doorstep of one Mr.Tom. A sixty year old man who has chosen to lead a quiet life after his wife passed. He keeps to himself and hardly talks to anyone. The arrival of the boy changes him. Others begin to notice the change. It does Willie a lot of good too. Willie overcomes his fears and the worry of doing something wrong all the time. He finds a good friend in Zack who also helps to bring out the finest in him. Willie learns to read and write. Mister Tom finds out that he is talented in art and encourages him to pursue his talent. All is well until the mother wants him back. Willie does not want to go back. Mister Tom does not want to let go either. But who can deny a mother her own child?
Moved by the book, I was curious to know how this wonderful book came about. I discovered that the Michelle Magorian was a drama artist and this is her first book which became a huge success. What had a deeper impact on me was the discovery that the inspiration for many aspects in the book came from the experiences of the author's mother who was a nurse during the World War II. She had seen upfront the plight of children during the war. I also discovered how an important character in the book at first did not die. But the author decided later to change it as it did not do justice to the time period. Tragically, children too lost their lives in that time. Being a children's book, this is an important book. It sensitizes readers about the horrors of war and its futility at some level. (Highly recommend for anyone above the age of 10)
I decided to share my experience of finding more about this author with my reading companions at the Young Readers' Club. It was so heartwarming to see them actively listen, but little did I know what they had in mind.
Discovering the writing process that went into children's favourite books
My young reading companions came forward to share information about authors whose books they had enjoyed reading. Several interesting discoveries came about making the authors whose writing they enjoyed, feel more real. Here a few snippets:
"J.R.R Tolkein used to tell his sons, bedtime stories every night. These stories weren't read out, they were a product of his imagination. One of the sons was particular about consistency and used to tell his father when there was any inconsistency. Tolkein then began to write it down so that he didn't forget the details and that's how the Lord of The Rings came into existence!"- A huge fan of the Lord of The Rings.
"Did you know that Dav Pilkey, the author of the very famous Captain Underpants series faced a lot of difficulty as a child. He had ADD but found his love for drawing comics and writing funny stories that shaped his stories to come in his adulthood,"- A fan of the Captain Underpants Series.
"Madeleine D'Engle, the author of the Wrinkle in Time, studied Einstein's theory of relativity and drew inspiration for this book. It is kind of sci-fi but a great read." - A reader who read her work for the first time. He already has noted down the names of the subsequent books in the series and is likely to read them as well. The fact that a book can be inspired by one of the world's most important scientific theories, fascinated one and all.
Discovering that writing is not a solitary activity
Writing is often viewed as a solitary endeavor, with authors hunched over their desks, immersed in their own thoughts. Exploring more about the author brings to light where their inspiration comes from. At times it is conversations with someone to learn their experiences, sometimes it is something that moves the author, sometimes it could be a childhood memory that transforms into a beautiful book. Ideas are everywhere. Authors maintain writer's books, notebooks in which they note down random thoughts/observations for use later on. This was a message that resonated throughout. Also we made a mental note that we mustn't give up on any book easily unless of course it is beyond one's reading level. We must remember that a lot of hard work has gone in.
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Both weekday and weekend batches are available at the Young Readers' Club. While this program is for the 8-12 age group, the Young Writers' Club program for the 13-15 age group offers a weekly platform to read and discuss curated articles from the news, observe writing approaches and practise one's writing skills.
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