Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Goodbye and Thanks to Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I somehow overlooked the news that children's author Zilpha Keatley Snyder died in October 2014. It's one of the many times when I've missed the late Peter Sieruta and his blog, Collecting Children's Books. I'm sure he would have let me know in a more timely manner.

She was 87, and published her last book in  2011. I confess I lost track of her books some time around the Green Sky trilogy in the mid-1970s, but her earlier work was a key part of my childhood reading. (The obituary in the New York Times says the trilogy explores "ideas involving utopian culture, social engineering and the control of violence," though, so maybe it's time I read it.)

I think I read The Velvet Room (1965) first, but didn't know that it was by the same author when I later picked up The Egypt Game (1967). Others from that era that I love are The Eyes in the Fishbowl (1968) and Season of Ponies (1964). The strangeness and refusal to say what was real and what wasn't in the latter two books was probably my introduction to magical realism.

My favorite among her books, though, has to be The Changeling (1970). I identified so much with the main character and so wished for a friend like Ivy that it almost hurt to read. At the same time, it examines issues of class and bullying without being heavy-handed.

For some reason, Keatley Snyder's most award-winning books, like The Witches of Worm and The Headless Cupid, didn't grab me. (I do like the Newbery-winning Egypt Game almost as well as my favorites, though the sequels leave me cold.)

But I could reread The Changeling or The Velvet Room any week. The Velvet Room creates a particularly resonant version of a Depression-era California migrant worker story, set near the part of California where Keatley Snyder grew up, and again touches on class differences, all wrapped around a mystery.

Here's one thing I learned about Keatley Snyder from her obituary:
"Disney wanted to option [The Egypt Game] for a film but wouldn't guarantee a multiracial cast," her longtime editor Karen Wojytla said in an interview. "She was very forward-thinking, and wouldn't sell them the rights."
Go, Zilpha. You are a model for writers to this day.


I would be remiss if I didn't mention illustrator Alton Raible, whose work accompanied the editions published back in my day. There's just about no information on his life within this thing called the interweb... just a brief mention on the Green Sky wiki that says he was born in 1918 and implies that he's still alive.... if so, live long and prosper, Mr. Raible.


Apologies to Pete Hautman for categorizing Snyder under my Reading YA tag, but since I'm not writing for a specialized audience of YA readers -- and because my favorite Snyder books predate that category, and probably helped create it with their edgier topics like lurking child molesters and teens vandalizing high schools -- it seemed okay.

1 comment:

Marsha Qualey said...

Zilpha indeed remains a model for today's writers.

And I bet Pete will be fine with the YA tag. That YA/MG line does seem to have its protectors on either side, doesn't it?