Tuesday, January 7, 2014

An Author a Day: Marilyn Sachs

January 7

The year was 1976 and I had been asked to organize a major book conference for our school district - a book conference for educators that would feature authors/illustrators of books for young readers.  I was the librarian in a K-6 grade school, and the books of Marilyn Sachs (December 28, 1927 - ) were very popular.  I decided that she should be invited to be one of our author speakers.  But how to invite her.  Those who had organized such conferences in other locations cautioned that I should always contact the author through their publisher.  So I hunted up the names and phone numbers of the publicity or children's marketing people at her recent publishers and called, and called and finally when I got a hold of someone in person they did not seem to know who she was.  In other words they were totally clueless.  So determined to at least have a chance at getting her to come; I did some research and found out that she lived in San Francisco, and her husband's name (since in the 1970s most phones were listed in the male's name).  I called telephone information -- found three entries by that name; and I began to call each number.  I hit pay dirt on the first call.  One of her children answered the phone, confirmed that I had the household for the writer Marilyn Sachs and told me she would be back from the grocery store in a hour and to please call back.  I did - and the result, Marilyn Sachs was one of the first authors to be part of the Cedar Rapids Community Schools "Books Have It ... So Do We" book conference that endured for a quarter of a century.
Among those titles by Marilyn Sachs, titles that are really too good to have missed are:
The Bear's House -- a story about 4th grader, Fran Ellen Smith, who is smelly and a thumb-sucker and who struggles to survive in her fatherless home, where she and her siblings struggle to survive without assistance from their mentally ill mother.  The classroom's play house -- the Bear's House-- provides a degree of refuge for her.
A Pocketful of Seeds tells the story of a young girl who must flee from the Nazis during WWII.  The story is a story of coping when she, her sister, and her parents are captured and sent to a concentration camp.

Every time I think of Marilyn Sachs I think of how gracious she was and how wonderful that entire first conference was.  I loved the entire day.
And I think of two stories that somehow bring a smile to my memories.
The first one involves A Pocketful of Seeds.   An intermediate reader had checked that title out of the library and had failed to return it.  We sent overdue notices with no response.  So in a last ditch effort, I made a call to his home to ask the parents to please take a look around for the book.  The mother literally yelled at me. Her son would NEVER check out a book about gardening.  He did not even like plants.  Obviously the library records were wrong and please stop bothering her.  Well, okay.  I knew there was not going to be any success with persisting on that route.  Shortly after that the family moved to a small town about 20 miles from our larger city and the child moved schools.  About 4 weeks later, a plain brown envelope arrived in the mail.  The post mark was from that small town.  Inside the envelope was the missing book, A Pocketful of SeedsNo note, no apology - just the book, but at least the family returned the book.  I always wondered if the mother took a look at the book and realized what the content really was all about.
The second story is about Sach's book Matt's Mitt (1975).  The book had arrived in our library and looked very strange.  The book jacket was brightly colored but the illustration (by Hilary Knight) just seemed to be two-thirds or so of the height that it should be.  The bottom half of the book was fully illustrated but the top 1/2 - 1/3 of the cover was solid white.  The original Library of Congress entry lists the book as being 20 x 24 cm.which would be about 7.9 inches x 9.4 inches.  That was the size of the illustration but not of the book itself. Clearly someone had changed their mind mid-publication.
Somewhere along the way (but late in the game - pun intended), the publsher decided that the book should be taller than planned but somehow had overlooked getting the art for the jacket changed.  So the first books off the press came with cover illustrations that seemed too short for the book.  i can't remember the changes to the art on the interior pages but every child who checked out this book - -and it is a good book about a fantastical mitt that could do amazing things, there was a question about the cover.  Just added a little something to the interest in the book.

Marilyn went on to write many other wonderful intermediate aged books and continues to live with her family in the San Francisco area.


Marilyn Sach's Home Page (WEB) www.marilynsachs.com
Marilyn Sach's Blog on Red Room: Where the Writers are  (WEB) redroom.com/member/marilyn-sachs/blog

Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.

for author visits

No comments:

Post a Comment