February 7, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: GOOD NIGHT, WIND, by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Welcome back to Birth Stories for Books, a series of guest blog posts about paths to publication from published authors and illustrators. Today's guest is Linda Elovitz Marshall, author of several books for children, including GOOD NIGHT, WIND: A YIDDISH FOLK TALE,  illustrated by Maëlle Doliveux, scheduled for release on February 26, 2019 (Holiday House). 
by Linda Elovitz Marshall and Maëlle Doliveux

Upon reading Linda's post, I immediately said to her, "How lucky are we that we have found a way to investigate our many and varied interests and fascinations while creating books for children!" 

Linda agreed. And now, let's hear directly from her:

I Find Stories Everywhere

I’m interested in – and like writing about – many things. I was working on my Ph.D. in Anthropology when my advisor told me to focus on one tiny detail of the subject matter I was investigating (it was attitudes of Americans toward the teaching of foreign languages in elementary schools). Oh, no! I wanted to study many things – language acquisition, bilingual programs, cultural attitudes, etc. I felt like I was in a toy store and had to choose only one toy to play with, forever. I couldn’t – didn’t want to – make that choice. I left the Ph.D. program. I didn’t get my Ph.D. But the doctoral-level work helped me become a good researcher. And I do love research! 

Back then, I had no idea I would eventually write for children. I’ve also taught early childhood education, studied language acquisition, written magazine articles and college-testing exam essays, raised sheep, and had my own bookstore. Writing for children happened kind of by accident. Talk about happy accidents! For a logophile like me (look it up, it’s not dirty…I promise you), it was a proverbial marriage made in heaven.

For me, there are stories everywhere in trees, clouds, cracks on the sidewalk, even in, say, the lint in my pockets. Some of my doctoral work has found its way into stories, too. One example is Rainbow Weaver (Lee & Low, 2016). It’s a bilingual story about a Mayan girl who wants to weave like her mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers and who ultimately learns to weave with discarded plastic bags.

Some stories require much research. Some require little. Mommy, Baby, and Me (Peter Pauper Press, 2017), was born from observing one more-than-a-bit neurotic dog (name omitted to protect the innocent). The arrival of a baby in the family was, from the dog’s perspective, not a happy event. Eventually, the dog figured out that the baby was useful. Phew! Happy Ending.

The forthcoming Good Night, WIND (Holiday House, 2019) began when I took a course in Yiddish Children’s Literature held at YIVO in New York City. Through stories translated from Yiddish into English by Professor Udel, I was introduced to the breadth of Yiddish children’s literature. One story, The Wind Who Got Angry by Moyshe Kulbak (1921), was about an old, tired wind that wanted to sleep but could not find shelter. With Professor Udel’s permission, I re-worked Moyshe Kulbak’s story into a picture book, modernizing it for today’s children. It took a long time but it was enjoyable work and I felt pleased to be the story’s midwife, bringing it to a contemporary audience. I sent drafts to Professor Udel to insure that my re-telling was accurate. I had just sent my final draft to my agent when, during a weekend retreat at the Highlights Foundation, I stumbled upon a similar story, entitled The Wind that Wanted to Rest by Sheldon Oberman and published posthumously by his wife.

OMG! What to do? The book had an Afterword by Peninnah Schram, a wonderful storyteller whom I’m fortunate to know. I contacted Peninnah. I asked if she had other information about the story. She didn’t. I returned to Professor Udel. She, too, had no idea that other versions of the story existed. Was it, I pondered, a story afloat in the Russian wind? A tale picked up, told, and re-told by people, each with their own interpretation? Was it, perhaps, not so much a story but a folktale, a tale of the people?

I changed my telling even more. I made Wind gender-neutral. No longer is Wind masculine, now it’s simply Wind - slightly male, slightly female, with attributes of both. I changed the story so that a mother no longer shames the wind into behaving. Now, a small boy recognizes that the wind is tired and that Wind, like a tired baby, needs to nap. The boy and his sister lead Wind to an ice cave (inspired by one near me, in the Berkshires) to rest. I also retold the story so it’s cyclical and poetic. Now, when summer ends and fall has worked its magic, a much-refreshed Winter Wind will return to blast “snow across fields and towns, sculpting drifts for children to play in.”

A product of scholarship and artistry, hard work, and attention to detail, coupled with Maëlle Doliveaux’s spectacular cut paper renderings, and nurtured under the wonderful guidance from editor Kelly Loughran at Holiday House, Good Night, Wind (Holiday House, 2019), subtitled “A Yiddish Folktale,” is ready to launch. May it fly high. May its message of caring for the natural world reach the far corners of the earth. And when Winter Wind blows in our faces, may we have the courage, kindness, and fortitude to realize that it, too, needs a place to call home.

Dear Linda, what a spectacularly beautiful and timely birth story. Thank you for sharing it with us. I can't wait to read your new book. 

Dear readers, GOOD NIGHT, WIND is available for pre-order now, wherever books are sold. Let's help this book fly high, indeed! 

Swimmer. Hiker. Dreamer. Writer. Linda Elovitz Marshall took a circuitous route to writing for children. Trained as a cultural anthropologist and with a lifelong interest in the magic of words, Linda’s first jobs were in early childhood education. Teaching, she fell in love with picture books. She also pursued a doctorate in anthropology (not finished), opened her own indie bookstore, raised four children and a small flock of sheep. Always interested in education, Linda wrote reading comprehension blurbs for college entrance exams. When a cousin suggested Linda put some of her ideas onto paper, Linda took a writing course with Lore Segal. During that course, a story was born…and another … and another. Linda now has almost 20 picture books, fiction and non-fiction. She is also working on a novel for middle-grade readers. For more information, visit her website: www.lindamarshall.com. 

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