Tag Archives: Marion Dane Bauer

LoonSong, Once More!

It’s happening.   LoonSong, the writers’ retreat that the folks who’ve been there call “Magical!”

Once more we will gather in the pristine wilderness of northern Minnesota in a rustic lodge on the shores of Elbow Lake.  Once more we will listen to some of the best writers and editors and agents in the children’s book world talk about their work . . . our work.  Once more we will join the conversation, speak our dreams, share our struggles.

It will be a small group, because the setting doesn’t accommodate large.  So once more we will get to know one another.

We will eat and sleep and work.  We will hike and kayak and, those of us who are truly brave, even swim.  We will mingle, faculty and students together, on pontoon cruises and at picnic tables and at the evening campfire.

And once more we will be renewed, because renewal is what this weekend is about.

LoonSong offers a smorgasbord of events to choose from, lectures and panels and workshops and one-on-one meetings and time for our own writing and even yoga.  Some who attend will be well-published writers.  Some will be beginning to explore this field for the first time.  All will find a home in this serene and lively setting.

The faculty is stellar:  Nikki Grimes; Susan Cooper; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Bruce Coville; Michael Sterns, the founder of Upstart Crow Literary; Yolanda Scott, associate publisher and editorial director at Charlesbridge . . . and more.

This gathering will take place from September 6th through the 10th.  Those who would like to leave early to celebrate Rosh Hashanah or who would simply like extra time at the retreat may arrive on September 4th.

Now is the moment to register while there are still openings.  This is our third year, and the retreat has filled each time.

Go to https://loonsong.org to find more detailed information and registration forms.

We writers work in such deep isolation.  LoonSong is the kind of community experience we need to give ourselves from time to time to keep our hearts full and our stories flowing.


Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.

James Arthur Baldwin

Credit: sideshowmom
| morguefile.com

Feeling as Meaning

I have never been fond of the exercise that asks students to identify a story’s theme.  Most writers, I suspect, share my view.  In fact, I once heard a Newbery medalist tell about her grandson receiving such an assignment about her book. Having access to the source, he called to ask.

She thought for a moment, then said, “Well, I guess the theme is . . . ” and she spelled it out for him.

He called her again a few days later to report.  His teacher had given his answer a D.

I’ve seen some educator-produced materials designed to support On My Honor that explained the “theme” of my novel in ways I barely recognized.  And though most of my grandchildren read On My Honor as a class assignment, I’ve been glad none of them ever called to ask me to explain its theme.  I probably would have gotten a D on the assignment, too.

It’s not that stories don’t have meaning.  They do.  Always.  A story could be saying, “Isn’t life a lark?”  It might be, “Life is a dirty deal.”   Perhaps it’s “Crime doesn’t pay.”  Or maybe “Seems like we’re all in this mess together.”  A story reveals its writer in the most intimate way by holding up her world view.  Sometimes a story can reveal more of her world than the writer herself understands.

Stories—at least well-written, deeply conceived stories—are not intended to stamp a lesson in the middle of a reader’s forehead, no matter how young and stampable that reader might be.  What stories are meant to do, more than anything else, is to make us feel.

The meaning of a story, any story, emerges through the feelings the story engenders, and feelings are difficult to explicate on an exam.

On My Honor

So what do I want my readers to feel when they read On My Honor?  First, I want them to feel Tony’s sudden, unexpected death, the shock of it, the finality of it.

Then I want them to feel Joel’s misplaced guilt, the way he takes responsibility for Tony’s brash actions, the way he blames himself for daring Tony to swim to the sandbar.  (It’s curious that my readers, even my readers’ teachers, rarely seem to notice that the guilt is misplaced.  Joel made the dare because he was trying to prevent Tony from going on his own to climb the bluffs, something he assumed would have been even more dangerous than messing around in the river.)

I want them to feel the way Joel’s guilt becomes blame, becomes fury against his father.  I want them to feel the hopelessness of that blame, of that fury, whether directed inward or onto another.

And finally, I want them to feel the solidness of Joel’s father.  Like so many of us parents, Joel’s father has been trying so hard throughout the story to do the right thing that he has been  wavering and uncertain.  But when Joel needs him most, that man’s love is a rock.

“Will you stay?” [Joel] asked, reaching a hand out tentatively to touch his father’s knee.  “Will you sit with me until I fall asleep?”

“Of course,” his father said.

I want my readers to understand in their bones that love doesn’t have to be perfect to be wholly, solidly, reliably there.  And that it is love’s thereness that redeems.

When they feel that, it doesn’t matter whether they can wrap that feeling in words and call it theme or not.  They understand.

To Love the World

“I think our job is to love the world.”    Kate DiCamillo

Some days it takes courage to love this world of ours.  Some days it feels easier–simpler, anyway—to pretend this fragile planet, badly used in so many ways, isn’t owed anything so demanding as love.

And when I say “badly used,” I’m talking about more than greenhouse gases and plastic clogging our seas and a climate spinning out of control.

I’m talking about a world bristling with nuclear weapons.  I’m talking about leaders—especially those in my own country—who for the past fifty years and more have believed in such monstrosities, manufactured them, stockpiled them, brandished them, used them on a civilian population . . . leaders who clearly hunger to use them again.

I’m talking about laws in this “land of the free” created and interpreted and enforced to protect a tiny fraction of our citizenry, those who are rich, white, male, heterosexual.

I’m talking about the wealthiest nation in the world where every day food goes to waste by the ton while too many of its citizens go hungry.

I’m talking about  . . . but what is the point of more talk?

We know.  We all know.  And knowing seems to bring only despair, and despair does nothing to feed love.

Kate De Camillo, however, says “our job is to love the world” and Kate is a wise woman.

What does it mean, though, to love?  It is such an easy word to say, so friendly sounding, convenient, all encompassing.  But love takes thought and attention and lots and lots of hard work.  I know that from trying to live love every day within the confines of a family, within a community of friends.  I know, too, that love has very little to do with feeling and a great deal to do with doing.

Love is a verb, after all.  An active verb, any English teacher would be glad to point out.

So what does it mean to love the world?  This world.  The one we stand upon today.  The one descending into chaos all around us.

And how can my loving make the tiniest bit of difference?

I am a storyteller.  Only that.  The best of my energy and passion and talent turns itself into stories, stories meant to challenge and to heal.

Many years ago I cast a book into the world that spoke against war, hoping to build a longing for peace in my readers.  My book’s title was Rain of Fire, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom gave Rain of Fire a nice award.

Rain of Fire – Marion Dane Bauer

And war did not stop.  It did not even pause

Again and again I hold the natural world up in my stories.  I write about the flora and the fauna and the arching blue sky with reverence, hoping to generate reverence in my readers.

And the flora and the fauna and the arching blue sky go on being abused without end.

I write about families, struggling to nurture, to survive.

And families go on struggling . . . to nurture, to survive.

Clearly my stories are not a fix for anything.  And yet they are the deepest gift that has been given into my hands.

They are my love for this chaotic world made manifest.

I write these stories with all the honesty, with all the passion, with all the intelligence I possess.  They are my strength and my determined hope.  They are the gift—very nearly the only gift—I have to give the children coming up behind me.

Are my stories enough?  Of course, not.  Nothing I do alone will ever be enough.  Yet each story lives out its life as a fragment of a larger love.

And only love, all our love gathered together, has any hope of saving this beleaguered world.

What is your gift?  What is the work of your love?

The Temple Bell Stops

Credit: jade | morguefile.com

The temple bell stops–

but the sound keeps coming

out of the flowers.


Basho – 1600