Authors I Admire
Writers’ work really can have an impact on young people and adults. Here are a few authors whose work has meant a lot to me, as a reader as well as a writer.
My wonderful third-grade teacher, Mrs. Lynne Tracy, read us the classic Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White every day after lunch. I cried at the end—something I never imagined possible with a book. I went back and read the novel on my own a few years later and much later as an adult. The story has never failed to move me, and, as a writer now, I can admire how well crafted it is.
Roald Dahl was another childhood favorite whose mostly middle-grade works speak to kids and their intelligence. His fierce stories are imbued with wonder, imagination and humor. At age nine, I adored his soaring James and the Giant Peach, which I think of today as one of his finest works.
The author/illustrator who captured my attention as an adult and first inspired me to want to write for kids was Chris Van Allsburg. I’ve probably read The Polar Express, for which he won the Caldecott Medal, more times than any other book. When I think of his body of work, the words wonder, mystery, beauty, individuality and restraint all spring to mind. I like how his picture books are favorites not only with children but adults.
While trying different modes of children’s writing as an adult, I noticed I was reading a lot of nonfiction on my own. One Sunday, while reading the Los Angeles Times, I came across a long feature by Barry Siegel about a father losing his young son during a mountain getaway. It was a heartbreaking story, beautifully told. I saved it. The next year, he rightly won the Pulitzer Prize for it. I realized how powerful true stories could be. Today, John Branch of The New York Times is the feature journalist whose work I most admire.
I was unfamiliar with Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s remarkable work until I read her picture book Snowflake Bentley about Wilson Bentley and his pioneering work with snowflakes. She managed to tell his story with a grace and simplicity appropriate for the subject and audience while conveying the depth of his commitment. This book opened my eyes to the possibilities of writing biographies, something I’ve always enjoyed reading.
E.B. White at work in his spartan Maine boathouse, where he did some of his writing for young readers. Photo by Jill Krementz.