A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Jerome Wexler (Venus Flytraps) and Betsy Duffey (How to Be Cool in the Third Grade).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Berta Hader (1891â€“1976), The Big Snow.
- Baseball legend George Hermanâ€śBabeâ€ť Ruth (1895â€“1948) was born on this day. Read Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Mike Wimmer.
- Itâ€™s Lame Duck Day. This does not refer to injured waterfowl, but to those whose tenure is about to expire. However, go ahead and read the Duck & Goose books by Tad Hills, The Story of Ping by Marjorie Flack, and I Can Help by David Costello.
ForÂ authors and artists week, Iâ€™d like to talk about the most impressive author I ever worked with, Scott Oâ€™Dell. Scott was in his mid seventies and I was in my late twenties when we first met. A tall man, large in body, spirit, and charisma, he could tell stories like no one I had ever met. Probably even more important to me, Scott genuinely paid attention to and appreciated junior publishing staff members. When I traveled to Italy, he outlined the â€śdo not missâ€ť spots like Fiesole. Whatever you did for him, he thanked you and encouraged you personally.
By that point he had become one of Americaâ€™s most accomplished writers for children. In his home Scott displayed on a mantle the treasures heâ€™d gatheredâ€”the Newbery Medal, the Hans Christian Anderson Medal, and the Regina Medal. These were all, by the way, heavy and impressive objects. As someone who came late in his life to writing for children, perhaps he valued his profession more than he would have if it had come easier.
Born in Los Angeles in 1898, Scott attended a number of colleges and eventually worked in the motion picture industry. He was on set for the first filming of Ben Hur. Eventually he became the book review editor for the Lost Angeles Daily News and wrote some books for adults. But a true story that he had encountered always haunted him, about a young Native American who spent eighteen years alone on an island off the California coast. There was no record of how she spoke, and because Scott wanted to give this character, Karana, great dignity, he wrote in iambic pentameter, the language of Shakespeare. He had no idea who might want to read this storyâ€”and entrusted a copy to his friend Hardwick Mosley, West Coast sales representative for Houghton Mifflin. Houghton thought Island of the Blue Dolphins a childrenâ€™s story, published it in 1960, and Scott won the Newbery Award for his first book.
Married to childrenâ€™s librarian Elizabeth Oâ€™Dell, who would be his lifelong supporter and first-reader for his books, Scott loved no group of people more than librariansâ€”they read his books, they could tell him what children said, and they appreciated his stories. Although Island of the Blue Dolphins was published when Scott was in his sixties, he lived and wrote for another thirty years and crafted other superb novels: Zia; Black Star, Bright Dawn; The Kingâ€™s Fifth; The Black Pearl. Always personally generous with the money from his books, Scott set up the Scott Oâ€™Dell Award for Historical Fiction to help other authors receive recognition for their efforts.
How I wish I could have dinner with Scott and Elizabeth again. No one was ever kinder to me, a young woman trying to find her way in the publishing profession. But I do pick up Island of the Blue Dolphins from time to timeâ€”just to hear the sound of his eloquent storytelling voice. Please join me in doing so today.
Hereâ€™s a passage from Island of the Blue Dolphins:
Our island is two leagues long and one league wide, and if you were standing on one of the hills that rise in the middle of it, you would think that it looked like a fish. Like a dolphin lying on its side, with its tail pointing toward the sunrise, its nose pointing to the sunset, and its fins making reefs and the rocky ledges along the shore. Whether someone did stand there on the low hills in the days when the earth was new and, because of its shape, called it Island of Blue Dolphins, I do not know. Many dolphins live in our seas and it may be from them that the name came. But one way or another, this is what the island was called.
Originally posted February 6, 2011. Updated for .