I’ve been thinking about words a lot lately, not only because I’m trying to finish a new novel, but also because I’m still in my poetry reading phase, still feeling contemplative about life.
One of the reasons I’m a writer is because I love words. I just love the ways words go together. Love the way words sound when you read them out loud; love the way they look on the page.
So it was kind of perfect that while I was in the library with my kids this week I happened upon the newest book by one of my favorite authors: Patricia MacLachlan. The book is called Word After Word After Word and it’s so lovely, so warm, so…Patty MacLachlan. It’s all about truths and untruths, what is said and what is left unsaid, and above all, it’s about words.
The set-up: a famous writer named Ms. Mirabel has come to spend six weeks with a group of fourth graders. Of course the back story is that Ms. Mirabel is really a stand-in for Ms. MacLachlan herself, and sometimes she (the character in the book) reads to the kids from the classics of children’s literature, including books from her own cannon, such as Sarah, Plain and Tall and the book Baby (which if you have never read, please go get it now, and have a Kleenex box handy!).
Not much happens in Word After Word After Word, and yet everything happens. The kids in Ms. Mirabel’s class all have singular personalities, and singular stories to tell, although at first they’re not at all sure that what they have to write about will be terribly interesting. But of course as the book unfolds, we learn about private sorrows and small triumphs that make our characters unique and endearing and endearingly human, and when they all finally do write down their own stories, one by one, the book itself becomes a pretty powerful celebration of how important words can be.
What I love about Patty MachLachlan’s work is how beautiful her writing is. Each novel is like a poem, every word so very important. Many of the novels are short, spare, but they pack a wallop into a few, short pages. What I also love is how she makes her young characters so interesting. They’re funny and lovable, and they live completely in the world of children, watching grown-ups from a perplexed and ultimately forgiving distance.
One of my all time favorite books, of Patty MacLachlan’s, or of anyone else’s, for that matter, is The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt. I love Minna’s quest for truths and untruths (as well as a vibrato). I love her quirky writer mother who is so maddening and so familiar. (Oh, how many times have my own kids wondered why their mother can’t pull herself away from the computer screen long enough to focus completely on matching their socks?) One thing I always know when I begin a Patty MacLachlan book is that I will end up, by the time the novel is over, longing to live with the family she has created, a family that is usually creative and messy, and word by word true.