Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Brian Jacques Dies

Children's author Brian Jacques passed away over the weekend:
A former merchant sailor whose children's books sold millions worldwide has died aged 71.

Brian Jacques' Redwall series of books were translated into 29 languages and sold 20m globally.

He first wrote the series, set in an abbey populated by animals, for children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool.

When Rachel was still in elementary school, she came home one afternoon to excitedly tell me Brian Jacques was making a personal appearance at a local bookstore. Rachel had never heard of Mr. Jacques before that afternoon - I had only a passing acquaintance of his work - but her English teacher had told her how great his books were and that if she had a chance, she ought to go see him. I was early into my stay-at-home-Dad career so we had that chance and off we went.

By the time we got to the bookstore, a small crowd had already gathered. Knowing how these things are supposed to work, I bought a volume for Mr. Jacques to autograph for Rachel and we got in the lengthy line. Things moved along quite well - we were told that for the sake of efficiency, Mr. Jacques could not personalize his autographs and because of laryngitis he wouldn't be able to speak much, if at all. Cynical Dad saw this as a ploy to keep the fans moving through the line and the purchasing of books unheeded but by the time it was our turn, Mr. Jacques was quite charming. He made a subtle show of being taken in by Rachel's fresh-faced looks and he asked her her name in a hoarse whisper (Take that cynical Dad!). He leaned close to her, repeated her name in a low growl, rolling his r's and dragging out the last syllable in his Liverpudlian accent. Rachel smiled, he smiled back, signed, her book, and gave her a nod, his eyes twinkling. Rachel was enraptured, even though until a few hours before, she had no idea who this man was. And it didn't hurt that he looked a whole lot like Grandpop Pete:

Rachel has never been the most rabid reader in the world and I don't think she ever got past the volume we bought that day but Mr. Jacques gave her, and me, a warm memory of an afternoon with an author who took just a few seconds from his book tour to acknowledge a new fan. I thank him for it.

Flash forward to a few years later and Emily became of reading age. She picked up the volume from that afternoon and was instantly hooked. And, as is her habit, once she gets her reading meathooks into a series, she has to read them all, and in order. And so began a literary love affair for Emily as she marched her way from one end of Mr. Jacques ouvre to another. I remembered the time when books enraptured me, when I could get lost in their worlds and not become overly aware of what the author was trying to do. Mr. Jacques gave Emily quite a reading experience and I thank him for that, too.

In this digital world, it's rare that good writers come along and create a body of work that will last. Though I've never read any of his books, from personal experience and reports from the field, he managed to do just that.

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