Sometimes when books say “children” or “young adult” I think they are misrepresented to the full community of adults that refuse to read them due to the word children in the fold. Book publishers have caught on to this confusion and are now labeling certain books, the golden few, with multiple labels. For example, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was originally published in Australia under a young adult label from Picador and later became both young adult and “adult” in the US by Knopf. Knopf was smart enough to realize that some adults who would praise this book would never look for it in the “young adult” label (whatever that means). Don’t even get me started on the many uses of the phrase “young adult” or the phrase, “writing for children.”
That being said, I have a new book that needs to be translated into adult so that people of wine-tasting caliber can have a go with it. This just means that they stop putting it in the section with stuffed Dr. Suess characters, and pop-up books and place it in the section with Rita Dove, & the Penguin Classics. Wildwood is my new favorite chronicle. The only other chronicle I can think of at the moment is the Chronicles of Narnia and while it’s obviously a childhood classic, it isn’t set in Portland Oregon (along with Twilight) and it isn’t at all a new found glory.
In early 2011, the lead singer and creator of The Decemberists had a baby, which means he was struck full of fatherly instinct, holding a small bald head in the crook of his arm like a football, and probably rubbing the back of his wife as she cried over breast feeding. Some men go on late night pickle and taco runs while their wives are pregnant and other men write brilliant children’s book that only occasionally slow to the speed of a broken, and walked bicycle.
While I can’t tote around my new book and exclaim that it creates a fresh take on the 500+ page adventure stories, like Harry Potter did and still does today, but I can say that while not wholly original, the familiarization makes it that much more entertaining. We all know the “save the child, happy-ever-after” technique isn’t exactly original. Meloy conjures up Coraline in parts, Robin Hood in others, and Labyrinth from what I can tell on first read. He lacks in any sort of David Bowie character, but I’ll let that slide because I can’t expect all epic tales to have a place for David Bowie or a David Bowie reference. (I could request all the dog-like characters in Wildwood have two different colored eyes and all would be well with this quick glimpse of the Bowie). I’ve gone off on a tangent. Maybe I’m going on an adventure.
You can’t really write about Wildwood without talking about the illustrations. Usually, I hate illustrated epic adventures (as you can see from what I’ve been reading, I’m not really a graphic novel kinda gal). Only because I like to conjure up the pictures within my own head as I read. The pictures in this book are beautifully drawn though, and usually in a black and white quick stick way which I really liked. In fact all images on this blog that are drawn today are by Carson Ellis so you can see how magical she is. The only time I found it really insulting is when the illustrator, Meloy’s wife, Carson Ellis, took to drawing the Mystic tree. The tree (like all famous, ancient trees) is said to know everything happening in the wood and is where the mystics get all their meditation expertise. I really just wanted to imagine this tree that was the complete umbrella shade of this meadow full of women and men in robes who could sit in silence and communication with nature for hours. In fact, I think one of them actually sat and watched moss grow for three weeks. Really, they’re a group of psychics like Lily Dale, who are able to tell what evil witches may do, but also want to save the trees. So really, they’re recycling, prius-driving, prophetesses.
I have to admit that these were some of my favorite elements of the book. The alluding to Prue having these powers of mysticism when she conjures something in the wild to help her, the elements of Curtis’ bravery and his meeting the mystics but ultimately staying with his own rag-tag group headed by a red-headed king. (He actually looks a lot like a red-headed Jesus with his crown of woodsy elements. It just makes me think of daisy chains when all the girls in first grade would sit on the clover field and tie little headbands for themselves). For some reason, the entire time I was reading this book, I was thinking about summer camp and how the King of the Bandits would definitely be an adventure counselor.
The most remarkable thing about this book is that it’s good all the way through. In the first fifty pages, I admit, I wanted to get to the gritty action stuff when Prue and Curtis actually embark on a wild tour as partners, but after those first few pages of story lead-up, nothing really set me off as a reader. I feel like in 541 pages, there’s definitely a chance for people to completely disagree with an action by a character, especially the two main characters who are twelve and rash like pre-pubescence can be. I wasn’t ever like, “Ugh, Curtis would never do that,” or “Prue isn’t even that kind of girl, what is she thinking?!” Meloy must have an enormous story board in his son’s room where he tracks the characteristics and themes of Prue and Curtis. I think Meloy did his characterization so well that at one point, around halfway through, I wasn’t sure who the evil vixen was in the story. I wasn’t sure who was going to come out triumphantly bad. Everyone seemed like a bad guy. I was consistently repeating, “No, don’t trust him,” to my main characters. I had become a part of the book, fighting along side the bandits and Avian Principality. At one point, I literally cried over a characters death. I mean I was invested. If it wasn’t for the reappearance of E., the bird, I may have lost it all together. You know you may be upon that time of the month when a small sparrow makes you break out into tears in the middle of a silent bedroom.
Moving on. Last week in a memoir I compared my body to the mapped universe. I thought it was really poetic and sensual and I only threw it in because who doesn’t like maps in their stories, or just in general? Have you ever seen that couple, driving cross county, where the woman has one foot hanging out the rolled-down window and a map scrunched up and around the rest of her. The only way you know this woman, the only way you can tell her story is through the foot to the wind. Are her toes painted? Are her soles peeling? Are her feet those of a ballet star, or do they have the blisters of a runner? Whatever it is you wonder about those feet (maybe you have a foot fetish), really you’re wondering about the map? How do you even read those anymore? What did your sixth grade teacher say about Latitude and Longitude? Why does Angelina Jolie have those weird numbers across her bicep? Why is it not round on paper, this world we’re all shoved into?
People like maps; partly because they want to know where they’re going, or where they are, but mostly because maps lead to dreams. Where am I going, you ask? Well, there are at least three maps, maybe four, all throughout Wildwood because Carson Ellis wanted us to feel at home, or figure out where we were stationed in the wood. Are we in North Wood with the rabbits or South Wood with the politicians? Where in the heck are we? We’ll we’re in Wildwood of course – the Impassable Wilderness where young girls speak to birds and adult girls get to listen in so they can figure out how, here in the real world. (The adult girl would be me. What I would give to speak to birds…)
I loved this book because it reminded that new books for children are not tampered down with nonsense, or boyfriends, or over dramatized. and they can still be adventure stories, full of heart and wisdom and lessons on recycling. My argument against young adult books is often that they don’t match up with the young adult capacity. I work with the age group known as “young adults” every, single day and they are vibrant, and curious, and know far more than anyone expects them to. Sometimes, parents think they aren’t letting children in on serious issues because of the heaviness of it, but little do they know those children are listening under door cracks and at the top of the stair landing. Children’s bare feet are tucked underneath their night shirt and their heads are leaning in the small space between banisters. Children are smart, and sometimes they teach you things, you the adult, without you even realizing it. So, why, do we write books that don’t fulfill the capacity of these young minds? Wildwood does. It has all the themes of classic young adult and children’s books; bravery, courage, learning to be alone in the world, the idea that violence does not always mean winning and winning does not always mean success. These ideas are all present in Wildwood, as well as adventure, and boys who help men escape, and owls who talk to young girls over tea, and a town full of farming rabbits, foxes and bears who carry pitchforks into battle.
I have faith that if you saw this cover, no matter what section of the bookstore, you would immediately pick up this book and thumb through it, breathing yourself into the pages, but if you don’t come across the fantasy of the illustrations, then I recommend you pick it up because I say so, and because who doesn’t want to read a book set in Portland where the post man carries a young girl to her intended destiny in the fantastical.
If nothing else, maybe a letter will ignite you:
A LETTER FROM COLIN & CARSON
Back in the year 2000, Carson and I were living humble, impoverished lives in a warehouse in Portland, Oregon. I was thinking about starting a new band; Carson was doing oil paintings and selling them at fire-sale prices. We were kindred spirits. Since we’d met in college a few years prior, we discovered that our creative sensibilities lined up perfectly. Carson had done flyers for my college band. I sometimes suggested subjects for her paintings. We were looking for some way to create a real collaboration.
We started working on a story.
It would be an illustrated novel, we decided, and it would be for kids. It would be epic in scope. A war-torn world that existed, somehow, out of time. A young protagonist, searching for a lost relative. A mechanical boy-prince, whose resurrection and subsequent death was the ultimate cause for the heartbreak of a nation and, perhaps, the madness of his bereft parents.
We called it “How Ruthie Ended the War.” I wrote 80 pages and Carson sketched many drawings. Then I started a band called the Decemberists and began touring the country and eventually the world. Carson began illustrating other authors’ books—while also providing all of the art for the band’s record covers and T-shirts and website. We spent the next ten years being too busy to think about the project and it was abandoned.
A few years ago, however, we decided that maybe the time was right to revisit the bones of that old story and see if we could breathe life back into it. We’d recently moved just outside of town to a little neighborhood notched into Forest Park, a 5,000-acre tract of woods on the edge of Portland. We spent a lot of time wandering its many trails. The otherworldly nature of the park’s deeply forested hills—made more so because of its proximity to downtown Portland—set my imagination abuzz. What if it were its own secret country, populated by a diverse and strange people? The books I loved growing up often used settings that were familiar to the reader, but were wonderfully distorted through the lens of the author’s imagination—a country house in England with a mysterious wardrobe, a re-imagined Florida in which the citizens of the state are born with magic talents. I wondered what sort of world could be created within the borders of this beautiful, verdant park.
So we started as any explorer should: with a map. On a large sheet of paper, Carson traced the actual boundaries of the park. We noted where some of the park’s landmarks were: the Pittock Mansion, the Japanese Gardens, that strange old house on Macleay Trail. And then we applied the lens of our imaginations. Wildwood is the end result of that incantation.
Carson and Colin
- A Very New York Times Review
- Probably one of the cutest couples I’ve ever seen.
- Carson’s Website.
- The Blue Bookcase Review
- Chapter 1 of Wildwood (just a teaspoon).
- Chapter 2 of Wildwood (just a taste).
- I love this blog’s bird stars.
- Karissa’s Reading Review.
- Alison Can Read Review.
- Candace’s Book Blog (so many female book bloggers, sheesh).
- Blueblack Ink (my favorite review of these).
PS. It’s National Library Day today. I had no idea, and feel ashamed. However, Blue of Wood Smoke reminded me. Celebrate your libraries at dinner tonight, and with loved ones. Maybe go peruse the shelves before they close for the night.