by Margaret Mahy
When I worked as a librarian for the School Library Service in New Zealand, one of my jobs was reading book reviews and ordering such books as were praised and recommended. The Horn Book was extremely important to me back then, particularly since it featured such thoughtful and reliable reviews, along with articles that tied me into the international world of children’s books, letting me know just what was being published for children in the USA and what experts thought of them. I could feel my awareness stretching as new titles and authors were mentioned, and of course I was always fascinated to find out just which books had won the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, not only because the winners were books I wanted to acquire for the library but because, in life beyond work, I was a committed reader, always looking for a story that would thrill me, and there was a strong chance I would find the award-winners thrilling in various ways.
When I heard that Bubble Trouble was an award winner, I was utterly amazed and (of course) delighted. Writers create their stories inside their heads, then send their stories out into the world with the hope — the expectation — that somewhere out there some reader will read and enjoy the story, building it back into his or her own private world — an inner world that is inevitably different from that other inner world that was the source of the story in the first place. So the story, told or published, describes an arc, moving from one imagination to another. The writer launches the story, the illustrator expands it, the publisher gives it an accessible form, and ultimately the reader receives and in some ways re-creates it, for even when the words are firmly in print on the page readers respond differently to them, make their own connections, build their own edifices of image and language. Winning an award means that experienced readers have enjoyed the story, and the story is fulfilled.
The starting point for a story like Bubble Trouble is, of course, language itself. It has something of the quality of a tongue-twister, a traditional game that people have played with words for many years. When I was a child I was certainly fascinated by the sound of words — a fascination I think we all share. Language is so important to us that from infancy on we respond to games with words…games that entice us into using words — not only tongue-twisters, but echoing rhymes. School playgrounds generate their own rhymes and chants, along with small verses that seem to have no author, no identifiable origin…that seem to spring into existence in some strange spontaneous way. I am not suggesting that Bubble Trouble is like this. For one thing, it does tell an elaborate story; and for another, my name is attached to it. I do think, however, that part of its appeal, to me at least, is a relationship with the word games of my childhood.
I would love to be able to receive the award in person, but I have to resign myself to thanking you all with words, written down and then magically projected across an ocean by modern technology. But after all, even if I were lucky enough to be with you, ultimately my thanks would be conveyed in words anyway. It has been such a huge thrill for me to have the story recognized in this way…a recognition that I have never considered possible. So, “Here’s to the Horn Book!” I cry. (Looking a little to my left, I can see copies of The Horn Book in a line of books at the back of my desk.) “Here’s to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award!” I have already said “Thank you!” but there is nothing wrong, in a case like this, with saying it again. Thank you so much! Thank you so very much!
From the January/February 2010 Horn Book Magazine.