Lauren Wolk writes historical fiction for young people, but her stories resonate with adult readers too. Wolk's latest novel is Echo Mountain, the story of a family moving to the remote wilderness of Maine after losing everything during the Great Depression, and how they adapt, change, and forge new paths in life. The narrator, Ellie, is a girl with so much heart and courage—she is the friend or sister you'd want to have and want to be.
Echo Mountain is a story for our world today—when we are forced to simplify our lives, discover untapped skills, be strong for ourselves and each other; a time when everyone needs a helping hand or a kind word. I received this short piece from Lauren Wolk, about how the natural world and classic children's books have served as a touchstone for what's important in her life and work. It struck a chord for me, so I wanted to share it with you, too.
Echo Mountain is an editors' pick for the best children's books of April.
When people ask why I write historical fiction, I tell them that I was born old. Even as a small child, I loved going back in time as if that’s where—and when—I belonged. I made the trip by visiting my grandparents on the family farm in Pennsylvania where my mother grew up. I loved the simplicity of that place and the way it blew open all my senses; the feel of good, honest hard work; being outside in all seasons; the root cellar; the stone room where my grandma did the wash on an old wringer-washer; the big barn; and, of course, the orchards. The pastures. The woods. All of it.
And I loved reading books like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Winnie-the-Pooh and Charlotte’s Web. Like the farm, those books led me back in time, into the beauty of the natural world and a slower, simpler way of life. But I also loved those books because the writing itself was so beautiful. As were the illustrations. And I appreciated complex characters like Christopher Robin and sad old Eeyore, and stories that were a mixture of both light and darkness, tears and laughter. Most of all, I loved the chance to play my part, invest my imagination, and make my own contribution to the nightly ritual of reading with my mother before bed.
That farm and those books were old-fashioned, down to earth, and I wanted to be like that, too. To live that kind of life and do what those people could do: work with my hands to build things, grow things, cook and sew, repair what was broken. Most of all, I wanted to write like Beatrix Potter and A. A. Milne and E. B. White did. To create worlds and characters that would affect readers the way their books affected me. And to satisfy an endless craving to make art with words.
Putting the right words in the right order makes me feel whole. So does the natural world. So I guess it makes sense that I write books set in rural places, in the wilderness, and along the shore in times when people were closer to the earth and knew how to make their way through life unplugged.
I’m not a Luddite. In fact, I rely heavily on technology to help me connect with others. But I rely on the natural world and the simplicity of the past to remind me what’s most important. This earth of ours. Each other. And the stories that capture who we are. —Lauren Wolk
A short reflection on the inspiration of classic stories and the natural world on this award-winning author's work and life.
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