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That Book That Changed My Life: Hearts So Full

The Book That Changed My LifeAsking me to write about a book that changed my life is like asking me to choose just one star. Hundreds have changed me, each shining its own light, each from its own station in the firmament, all of those stations slowly whirling so I see them from new vantage points as I age. One book shines most brightly, though, regardless of season, even over the brow of the world, from the other side of everything. When my mother gathered me up at bedtime and opened Goodnight Moon, she opened the door to a world that was mine. And she opened the door to my own identity as a writer. I recognized that “great green room” with its bunny and its “bowl full of mush” and its “quiet old lady who was whispering hush.” I recognized the cadence of my mother’s voice as she read. The soporific melody of those words. The magic that Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd and my mother and I all made together. That book was not something separate from us. It was us. All four of us. Each of us with a part to play. Each of us right there in that room with that bunny. And I’m still in that room. I’m there every time I sit down to write. Because the way my heart reacted to the experience of lying in that bed with my mother and that book is the same way it reacts when I write: it is so full that I can barely contain it.

Goodnight MoonGoodnight Moon taught me to devote myself to the work. The right words in the right order. It taught me the power of prose that contains an element of poetry and song. The importance of blending the familiar with the unexpected. Of layers, nuance, complexity even in a “simple” story. Of how to make any book into a “great green room” with a door that swings wide open and invites the reader to come all the way in. Not to peek from the threshold. Not to listen from afar. But to come all the way in and reside in those pages until the last one turns…and long after that.

There’s a reason why my sister, Suzanne, flu-ish in her bed in Boston, once called me up at my office in Toronto to ask if I would read to her. Lacking a copy of Goodnight Moon, I grabbed The Runaway Bunny, also by Brown and Hurd, and read it slowly, softly, through the phone to my sick sister. Like Goodnight Moon, it took us both back to the root of our lives: the safe, simple, heartbreaking truth of a mother’s love. My sister could not see Hurd’s perfect illustrations through the phone…except she could. And she could certainly hear those words, enter that world, climb again into my mother’s lap, and feel what she had once felt. The comfort of that book. The love in it.

But here I am writing about a second book when I am bound to focus on just one. Except I can’t. I really can’t. Because I’m writing about far more than a book. I’m writing about the heavens. And here’s the thing about heavens. And books. And hearts. They simply refuse to be contained.

From the May/June 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference. For more in this series click the tag Book That Changed My Life.

Lauren Wolk About Lauren Wolk

Lauren Wolk is the author of the Newbery Honor-winning Wolf Hollow. Her latest book is Beyond the Bright Sea (both Dutton).

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Comments

  1. Mary Bouse says:

    Beautiful words and so true! Thank you for sharing your views and the wisdom of when we read well written words the entire human experience is created!
    Thank you Lauren!

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