JUNE 15:

  • Happy birthday Betty Ren Wright (The Dollhouse Murders) and Loreen Leedy (Measuring Penny).
  • In 1752, Benjamin Franklin proves that lightning is electricity. Read Ben Franklin and His First Kite by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Bert Dodson.
  • Happy birthday Arkansas, which became the 25th U.S. state in 1836. Read The Painters of Lexieville by Sharon Darrow and Summer of my German Soldier by Bette Greene.
  • It’s Smile Power Day. Read Smile by Raina Telgemeier, Smile! By Leigh Hodgkinson, Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli, and Grandma’s Smile by Randy Siegel, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo.
  • It’s a full Strawberry Moon tonight. Read Strawberry Moon by Becky Citra.

Sometimes writing the Almanac can be bittersweet, and today is such a day. On my outline for the first year of the Almanac, I set today aside to celebrate the birthday of a very special writer. Unfortunately for me and countless fans, Brian Jacques died suddenly in 2011. He would have been 74 today.

During his life Brian Jacques rarely caused a tear and often caused a laugh. He grew up in Liverpool and went to the same school as some of its most famous inhabitants, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. But the author always claimed that he received his education “in the University of Life.” At fifteen he became a merchant seaman; he worked in a variety of positions from longshoreman, truck driver, police officer, postmaster, stand-up comic, milk-truck driver, and radio announcer. Nothing up to this point in his life indicated that Jacques would ultimately become one of the world’s best loved children’s book writer.

As is true of so many of our classic authors, he began to tell and then write a story for a child, actually several children, in the Royal School for the Blind, Wavertree, Liverpool, where he delivered milk. Because they could not see, he needed to create vivid pictures of scenes for them. He emphasized action and adventure. In the process he came up with the winning concept that sustained over twenty-some books, which have been translated into twenty-nine languages and have sold twenty million copies worldwide during his lifetime.

The peaceful members of Redwall Abbey suddenly find their lives changed when attacked by Cluny the Scourge and his horde of villainous followers. A young novice of the abbey named Matthias mobilizes the defenses of his beloved refuge and attempts to become a hero. Of course, this plot has been used before, but Jacques gave it his own twist. The residents of the abbey in Redwall are mice; the villains, rats. A colorful cast of characters—Constance the Badger, Basil Stag Hare, Warbeak the Sparrow—all join forces to save the abbey. Not only does the plot boil over with excitement and daring, it contains a strong sense of right and wrong and clearly evil villains.

In May another Redwall volume, The Rogue Crew, was released. Usually after each new story came out, Jacques traveled extensively in the United States, often for more than a month, to introduce the new book and meet his fans. He was always a fabulous performer to watch—he loved to create characters, set scenes, and hold audiences enthralled as he brought to life his book and his characters. Many who sat in those audiences had become bored with reading—until they picked up a book by Brian Jacques! Then they read volume after volume of his saga. Consequently, many in America felt like they knew him and had shared part of his journey as a writer.

And so my best wishes to his wife, Maureen, who so often accompanied him on his trips, and Patti Gauch, the American editor who first believed in Brian Jacques. We can all be grateful that we have the books of this generous, creative, and engaging writer for young people.

Here’s a passage from Redwall:

The high, warm sun shone down on Cluny the Scourge.

Cluny was coming!

He was big, and tough; an evil rat with ragged fur and curved, jagged teeth. He wore a black eyepatch; his eye had been torn out in battle with a pike.

Cluny had lost an eye.

The pike had lost its life!

Some said that Cluny was a Portuguese rat. Others said he came from the jungles far across the wide oceans. Nobody knew for sure.



Originally posted June 15, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Animals, Humor, Mice, Rats


  1. G.Perry says:

    While reading through Anita’s list of 100 Best Book for Children, I kept putting this one off. I’m not sure why, but I did finally read it and I can see why Brian Jacques is so successful. It was a great read! I enjoyed it throughly and would read it again.

    I didn’t realize that Brian was no longer living. This is sad indeed. His work is full of so much fun and energy, and life. Farewell to a fine fellow for children, as well as adults.

  2. Sarah says:

    Thank you for highlighting Brian Jacques and Redwall. My oldest son, who is 19 and headed to college in the fall, started checking Redwall out of the library when he was about 6. He’d try to read it and get through a chapter, and take it back. He did this for a couple of years until he could read it himself. He has read the entire series, and became a voracious reader. Precious memories!

  3. Brian Jacques is best read out loud to kids in pajamas. He wrote memorable characters with dialogue that made inventing accents and voices easy, Thanks for the memories of cuddling up with my children and always having them ask for more at the end of each chapter.

  4. I thank you Anita and G. Perry, Sarah and Peter Little – for such a useful review and comments.

    Let me admit at once that I never read a book penned by Brian Jacques, yet I come across recommendations so often.

    To quote G. Perry “I kept putting this one off. I’m not sure why” – but after reading his/her comment I understand that I am in the same position.

    Maybe today is the day that Brian Jacques will make Read Aloud Dad’s world brighter … I’ve decided to order his books for my twins to enjoy one day. In fact, we will all enjoy them, as I plan to read them aloud at bedtime (“in their pajamas”)! Thanks Peter.

    So, just like Sarah, I hope to have precious memories.

    Anita – the Almanac did its magic as usual!

    Read Aloud Dad

  5. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments — you always make my day brighter!

  6. Andrew Creamer says:

    This is my first visit to this site and I cannot express how ecstatic I am to be greeted with Redwall as today’s post! I could not have imagined a better welcome! I have so many memories devouring his books, how I would get goosebumps at how authentic the characters were, how I would literally tear up as the pages thinned in my right hand knowing that I was coming to the end and I would have to wait for the next. As I write this I have grabbed the very copy I first read as a child and have dragged with me from my parents’ house, to dorm room to apartment to my own library. Thank you Anita Silvey for making my day!

  7. Dan says:

    I LOVE the Redwall books! For many young readers, Redwall is the first really long story they read, and it holds their interest to the very end. I especially enjoy the audio version with Jacques narrating along with a great cast of characters. My only problem is the verbal abuse I get from my adult sons as they say, “There’s Dad reading about his warrior mice again!”

  8. Gail Terp says:

    My son and I spent some lovely times with the Redwall books…

  9. Anita says:

    Andrew: Thanks for joining the discussion. Great comment. Hope to hear from you again.

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