Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Messages that stay

I often read that writers should write for themselves or imagine the one fan that they are writing for. I think this is especially true with Young Adult books. They reach people at a perfect age, when they are learning and absorbing messages that they will carry as adults.
I saw a story this week about a fan letter an author received ten years after her unpublished manuscript was sent to a girl by a librarian. It was truly heart-warming and the story had a great and positive influence on that small girl. Power to small girls with glasses!**
I was talking to my son in the car after piano lessons. He is truly talented but doesn’t practise enough (constant cry of all mothers everywhere). He needs to strengthen his wrists. I don’t know why, but a story I had read as a child popped into my head.
I remembered the character’s name - Pennington, and I recalled that he was physically large, angry, and violent and had been in trouble with the police until a teacher who cared, got him into piano. He played it like Beethoven; smashing keys until his fingers bled. Playing piano was definitely not ‘gay’ (ugh - hate that insult) and he still played sports. He defended his piano playing with his fists.
The story was set in England. I also remembered another scene where his father (I think) defended a doctor at the hospital from a racist bigot. He said something like the public hospital system would fail without doctors like him from India and Pakistan, working long hours for less pay; doing the jobs that the English turned their noses up at.
When I got home, I looked up the Net and found the book was called ‘Pennington’s seventeenth summer’ and was written by K.M.Peyton. She of the Flambards TV show fame. I wasn’t into ponies or horses so I don’t think I absorbed any messages from those books.
Wikipedia says  there were four books in the series. I know I have read the first two. They are out of print now, but I will keep an eye out for them.
·       Pennington's Seventeenth Summer (1970), later as Pennington's Last Term, illustrated by Peyton
·       The Beethoven Medal (1971), a.k.a. If I Ever Marry, illus. Peyton
·       Pennington's Heir (1973), illus. Peyton
·       Marion's Angels (1979), later as Falling Angels, illus. Robert Mickelwright
I don’t know if I have recalled the two scenes correctly, but I do know that what they said has stayed with me. A message of inclusion and anti-racism that has stuck with me for my adult life and I must have been about ten years old.
That’s how powerful words can be.

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