"It was a long journey they set out on"

In grade six, the wonderful Ms. Glenda Ripley, teacher extraordinare with a passion for English literature, read aloud to our class from Kit Pearson's The Sky is Falling.

The story, set in 1940, centred on Norah Stokes, a 10 year-old feisty girl from Kent, England, whose parents decide to send her and her 5 year-old brother Gavin to Canada for the remainder of the war. Norah is devastated to abandon her country in its time of need, and terrified of leaving her familiar life for the big, safe, unknown Canada. When she and Gavin arrive, they are assigned to live with Florence and Mary Ogilvie, the first of whom is bossy and proud, the latter: timid and quiet. Norah struggles with school, making new friends, and overwhelming homesickness, and tries desperately to adjust to her new home.

As Ms. Ripley read, I fell in love with Norah. I fell in love with England and her experiences of war; I sympathized with her fear of meeting new people and trying to respect her new family; as she escaped into books with characters who always seemed to have the perfect life, I was Norah. I quickly found out that The Sky is Falling was the first in the Guests of War Trilogy, and I promptly took out the next two books from the library - Looking at the Moon, and The Lights Go On Again. Just after my 12th birthday, I bought the trilogy: the first book I ever bought for myself.

In an email to a friend I wrote about a month ago, I tried to summarize how I feel about the series, and about Kit Pearson's other works. Here is an excerpt:

I realize now how [Kit Pearson] is a practically perfect 9-12 adolescent writer, and I find the issues that her children face are things I dealt with when I was 12 and are still the same ones that I deal with now. I think that's sort of profound, because it means that we never really stop feeling how we did when we were a child. The things that scare us and give us joy and cause us to worry never really stop; they just change names and places. I seriously opened The Sky is Falling and started to cry when I read the first page, because it was like my entire youth readership, my love of history, my understanding of my country and the whole reason I am doing the MACL program was all because of that book. That book has shaped me and influenced my life more than any other novel.

I met Kit Pearson yesterday. She talked about her previous works - her inspiration for her stories, the writing process, the influence of her own life on her works - and then read from hew new book, entitled The Whole Truth, which is due out in Fall 2011. She then took questions, and we chatted about her publishing process, favourite characters, and future ideas for books. She then signed my 12 year old copy of The Guests of War Trilogy, took a picture with me, and listened as I tried to tell her how influential her work has been on my life.

And as I stood there, I thought of the epigraph at the beginning of The Sky is Falling. It's from a Russian folktale called "Alenoushka and Her Brother":

It was a long journey they set out on, and they did not think of any end to it.

I thought of how in grade 6, I re-read that line, realizing that there was a long path ahead of me. Yesterday, it was as though my life had come full circle. From a young, boisterous 12 year old, a passionate reader, who then traversed through the complicated high school and early university years where my passion got lost in the mess of needing to find a "real" career path, to a MA in Children's Literature student who opens the cover of the first book she ever bought and still gets completely enraptured in the story. 

Yes, it was a long journey, and no, I did not see any end to it. But as Kit's hand glided across the page and wrote in precise handwriting "Hello to Jillian!," I crossed the finish line. My journey had come to an triumphant end.


Helen said…
What a beautiful description of your experience with Kit. It was pretty clear as you were listening to her in class that she was reaching the young girl within you and touching your soul with her presence and her words. It was a privilege to be there and see the magic take place.

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