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Childhood Books Cast a Long Shadow

Writers of children’s books often get letters from children “by-the-class-full”—letters that teachers have their students write. I always enjoy those, even when I know they were written on assignment.

What we don’t often receive are letters from former children...letters that say a story written decades ago lives on. Last week, I received such a note, an email that should remind us, that the stories shared with children can cast a long shadow. Here is a very special email (shared with the author’s permission):

I am writing to you about your book, The Other Side of the River. I remember buying the book when I was 4 or 5 and it quickly became one of my favorites. The book is exactly what popped into my head this morning when a friend posted this article on facebook:

Obviously, this situation is not a case of an actual bridge falling down but the basic lesson of how important it is to really think about how we are connected to one another and to have respect and appreciation for others’ contributions – that feels like a lesson I’ve known for so long because of this book. I ordered a copy today for my almost four-year old son, and I am really looking forward to reading it with him.

Thanks so much for your work!

Helene J. Busby

Staff Attorney, Legal Aid

My thanks to Helene! How grand it is to discover that a story published so many decades ago is fondly remembered. Even more, that it still resonates and says something meaningful about our need for each other. Of course, the book is now out of print and only used copies are available. Who knows, maybe it’s time for a reprint in English. Oddly enough, in 2017, Tuttle, a Japanese publisher reprinted the book in Japanese. You never know.

On the Other Side of the River, was published in 1972 by Franklin Watts. It’s one of those publishing stories that should comfort writers who get rejection letters—in other words, all writers. After submitting the story to several publishers, I put the manuscript away in my desk. A year later, an editor called to ask if the script was still available. She explained that she loved the book when she read it originally, but she was not then in a position to buy it. Now, she had become the senior editor at Franklin Watts and hoped to do the book with the talented and well-known illustrator, Aliki.

Sadly, my own copies of the book were lost in a fire several years ago and the copy in the photo above was generously sent to me by Aliki. It is a personal treasure.

Back in 1972, the book was well received in the US and was even far more successful in England, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Japan. Perhaps the theme, the interdependence of people, was more meaningful abroad. 1972 was the year that Nixon visited China and I remember wanting to send him a copy to take along. Children’s books are not supposed to carry heavy messages; that’s what publishers and editors always say. Maybe not, but I think memorable stories are more than entertaining. They also say something to meaningful to our hearts. Like Helene, I believe that the idea of our interdependence is one that we need to share with each other and definitely with our children and grandchildren.

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