By a Strange Coincidence…from N.D. Wilson to Jeanne Birdsall

I could write about how this has been the Marchiest March we Mainers have had to endure in quite a while. Lots of snow,  plenty of mud—and we’re just starting with the melting—and joy of joys, another storm on the way with wet, heavy snow forecasted.  I could share this quotation I found on Facebook: “Maine. They call it ‘Vacationland’ because it sounds better than ‘Six Months of Suffering-Land.'”

But no, I’m not going to brood about the weather. Instead, I’m going to turn my attention to a much happier topic—books—and how I coincidentally came upon two authors who write children’s books and how those authors turned out to be connected, even though they write very different stories.

About a month ago, my husband Clif introduced me to the middle-reader fantasy 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson. It’s set in Kansas, just like another famous children’s fantasy, and the protagonist, Henry York, discovers magical cupboards (portals) in the attic room he’s staying in while visiting his aunt, uncle, and cousins. Overprotected and somewhat neglected, Henry finds warmth, solace, and generosity with his aunt and uncle. Much of the book focuses on the everyday domestic life in a small town, with large dollops of barbecues and baseball. But through a magical cupboard Henry eventually goes, where he encounters strange mystical lands, an evil witch, and a mystery that takes him right back to Kansas.

I liked 100 Cupboards so much that I immediately read the sequel, Dandelion Fire, which dispenses with the domesticity and hurtles Henry headlong into the fight between good and evil, the concern of most good fantasy novels. There’s a third book in the series—Chestnut King—which I definitely plan to read.

A week or so ago, on a blog I follow—Letters from a Hill Farm—I came across a book recommendation, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. A day or two later, I found The Penderwicks at a bookstore, The Book Review, which I recently visited for the first time. (I’ve written about the book and the bookstore a couple of posts ago.) I loved The Penderwicks so much that I borrowed the next three in the series from our library, and I’m whipping through those books the way I would a box of chocolates.

Now as far as writers go, N. D. Wilson and Jeanne Birdsall couldn’t be more different, even though they write for the same age group.  As I indicated earlier, Wilson’s books are classic fantasies. Family is important—as it turns out, very important—but so is the larger story of the battle between good and evil. With her Penderwicks series, Birdsall focuses exclusively on the family, with its gentle ups and downs and the relationships of the various characters. Death brings a thread of sadness into these stories of four sisters and their father, but these are quiet books compared with Wilson’s fantasies. You might even call the Penderwicks series the Miss Read books of children’s literature. (However, Little Women was Birdsall’s inspiration.)

Here’s where the weird coincidence part kicks in. I like to read author websites, where I can find out a little bit more about writers and their books. I was reading Jeanne Birdsall’s author website, and I came across an event that featured both Birdsall and her friend (her wording) N.D. Wilson, where they would discuss Narnia. Unfortunately, the event took place last year in Chicago, and as I have no portals (or a Book of Everything) to take me back in time and across the country, this qualifies as a missed event.

Still, what a strange coincidence to come upon that nugget of information. Two months ago, I had never heard of either N.D. Wilson or Jeanne Birdsall. Now, not only am I fan of both writers, but I discover they are friends.

Thinking about books, authors, and neat coincidences sure beats brooding about snow.

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23 thoughts on “By a Strange Coincidence…from N.D. Wilson to Jeanne Birdsall”

  1. This was a great reminder/nudge for me. I read 100 Cupboards a year or so ago and liked it quite a bit. The sequel is on my wish list for the library but hasn’t quite ever made it over to the hold list so that I’m in line to take it out. I’m going to go bump it up now! 🙂

  2. Like you, I’m totally ignoring what is happening outside my window right now. If I can continue to do so for a couple days, it’ll all be just a figment of my imagination anyway. 😉 50 degrees tomorrow!

  3. Aren’t you jealous of Derrick’s garden, Laurie? What an early spring he gets! I sit somewhere between the two of you. So far I’ve had 2 or 3 days that I could get out there & start the clean up. Hang in there!

    Very cool story about the writers. SO exciting to find 2 that you love – what a gift that is!

    1. I certainly am. It’s hard to reconcile what he has in his garden with what I have in mine, mainly snow. As for the books, it was especially fun finding that the two writers are friends.

  4. Oh my goodness, thank you for the chuckle. I LOVE “Maine. They call it ‘Vacationland’ because it sounds better than ‘Six Months of Suffering-Land.’” We are just now starting to get a few flakes coming down. Here’s to both of us receiving whatever the forecast is on the low side. 🙂

  5. Those books sound delightful.(100 cupboards and its sequel). Have you read Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries? You read one and you want to read them all. As for coincidences – it does feel like unknown worlds opening very, very briefly when these things happen.

      1. The hero-protagonist is a 12-13 year old girl, Flavia, with a wicked talent for chemistry, who lives in an old mansion with her father and two older sisters.

      2. Sounds like my kind of book! I just requested it through Interlibrary loan. Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. Thank-you very much for the follow, Laurie. I have been reading some more of your posts and the more I read the more I know I am going to enjoy following your blog.
    I too, enjoy reading children’s books and have quite a collection of them. One day I hope I will discover some way of making this collection look much smaller than it is, so that I won’t ever again have to go through the motions of trying to find books to give away or sell.
    I was interested to see your Miss Read link. I like her books and find them so very soothing. I used to go to the school she attended but by the time I went there it was no longer the County School but Ravensbourne School for Girls. Sadly, it has since ceased to exist but when I was there it celebrated its 65th year and as an ‘old girl’ Dora Saint was asked to provide something for a special magazine. She did so and wrote a lovely account of her memories of the school and the countryside roundabouts.
    I hope your snow has started melting and that you will soon find that spring has arrived.
    Clare

    1. Thanks, Clare. Oh, how I loved your Miss Read story. My goodness! What a thrill to go to the same school as Dora Saint. And although she has a reputation for writing sunny stories, there are dark threads in pretty much all of them. She was was my favorite kind of writer, sympathetic but shrewd. Having a wonderful collection of children’s books would bring warmth to any home. Finally, in Maine spring is still playing coy. No sign of her yet.

  7. Hi Laurie! I am just reading this and I loved this so much I had to comment! I love coincidences like this and it always shows us how connected we are whether it is authors or musicians or naturalists etc.there are wonderful connections to discover that make our world feel a little smaller and friendlier! Also more magical… (and I too love the Penderwicks)

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