Linda Urban is the author of the CBC Children’s Choice Award finalist MOUSE WAS MAD, illustrated by Henry Cole. Her beloved middle grade novels include A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, HOUND DOG TRUE, and THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING.
Linda's brand-new picture book, LITTLE RED HENRY, illustrated by Madeline Valentine, was published yesterday! It's the story of a coddled little boy determined to assert his independence and do things himself – no matter what his helicopter parents might say about it. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said, “From start to finish, it’s an irresistible story.”
Linda, what is your favorite book of all time?
"Andrew Henry’s Meadow is the story of middle child Andrew Henry. His twin older sisters like to sew things and try new ways to do their hair. (Okay, so the gender stereotypes are a little outdated.) His twin younger brothers like to play with toy cars and coloring books. But Andrew Henry likes to build things.
The things Andrew Henry builds are marvelous. Who wouldn’t want an enormous eagle’s cage in the middle of the living room? His dad, Mr. Thatcher, as it turns out. His brothers don’t love the system of pulleys he's made for their bedroom, either. In fact, nobody in the family appreciates Andrew Henry’s skills and imagination. He feels alone in his house. No one to share with. No place to dream and build. And so, one day Andrew Henry packs up his tools and leaves.
Holy smokes. What kid doesn’t feel underappreciated for their talents? How come my mother wasn’t interested in watching every hour-long spontaneous play I would put on in the garage? What did she mean she “had to get dinner ready?” Pif! What is spaghetti and meatballs compared to art???
Anyway, I understood Andrew Henry. I cheered him on as he left his home for a distant meadow where he built himself his very own house, a perfect little Arts and Crafts influenced cottage. Author-illustrator Doris Burn renders the cottage in beautifully detailed pen and ink, with a line that is reminiscent of Walter McCloskey and a precursor to Marla Frazee. Apparently, she made the entire book while living on an island in Washington State -- an island with no electricity, telephone, or running water. The paper, pens, brushes, and ink she used had to be brought in on a mail boat from the mainland. THIS is a woman who understands what it means to have a space of your own in which to do what you love.
But back to the plot . . . soon, Alice Burdock, birdwatcher, comes to the meadow, birdfeeders and binoculars in tow. Andrew Henry builds her a tree house. He builds a circus tent for another child with two racing toads. And an underground warren for a pet lover (great for rabbits). And a small castle with a drawbridge for the a girl who loves to play dress up. Eventually, there are nine houses in the meadow, each reflecting the uniqueness of the child who lived there.
|From ANDREW HENRY'S MEADOW. Illustration copyright by Doris Burn.|
I spent hours looking at the spread of the meadow full of houses. Which would I choose? Or better yet, if I met Andrew Henry what would he see in me? What sort of house would he build that would let my true self shine?
Thankfully, the children’s families miss them and their odd quirks. For four days they search and eventually the children are found. OH! The joy of that reuniting! There is dancing and clapping and hugging and kissing! These children WERE loved after all! Their families just forgot to tell them so! My childhood self understood this page pretty well, too.
Best of all, when Andrew Henry gets home, his parents turn over a corner of the basement to him to use as his very own workshop. The final illustration shows him happily at work, his family all seated on the basement stairs, eager to see what he would build next. A space of one’s own! And, oh, to be seen!
For as much as I carried that book around, it is in surprisingly good shape. The corners are a little dinged and the stitching has some give, but it is holding up okay. I suspect that this is because, even at seven and eight and ten and twelve, I knew this book was special and maybe even sacred. This book saw me. And I saw myself in it. I suspect I always will."
Check out Linda Urban's NEW book!
Illustrated by Madeline Valentine
* "From start to finish, it’s an irresistible story for the target audience: Henry’s assertiveness results in an epic play date, as Urban’s . . . terrific text elaborates ("They teeter-totted and monkey-barred and triumphed gloriously on the battlefield"), and his family is still at his beck and call at bedtime. Who says you can’t have it all?" —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Praise for Linda Urban's Middle Grade Novels
THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013
* "[Urban] compactly, gently addresses some common aspects of grief: the isolation, the regrets, the bargaining, and the epistemological questions about meaning. . . . This is a terrific first step up for kids who are just beginning to explore more complicated novels." —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)
* "A poignant, finely wrought exploration of grief."—Kirkus (starred review)
HOUND DOG TRUE
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2011
* "There are many books that offer adventure and twists and unusual story lines. Most of them do not offer young readers such fine writing and real characters. That is hook enough."—School Library Journal (starred review)
* "Urban (A Crooked Kind of Perfect) traces a highly self-conscious child's cautious emergence from her shell in this tender novel about new beginnings and "small brave" acts."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2007
"An impressive and poignant debut novel . . . filled with hope and humor." —School Library Journal
"Immediately engaging . . . Zoe’s world is drawn with sometimes painful precision, her emotions are revealed with empathy, and her story unfolds realistically, without the miracles she hopes for, but with small, sometimes surprising changes . . . sometimes funny, sometimes tender, this is a promising debut." —Booklist