FACULTY AUTHOR BRINGS TO LIFE CHILDREN’S TOY SET
MARLBORO, VERMONT – As a child, writer Laura Stevenson would play for hours with a set of lead knights and a castle. Little did she know then that the toy set would one day inspire a tale of triumph for a dyslexic fifth grader struggling to find her place.
Stevenson’s latest young adult novel, A Castle in the Window, is the tale of Erin, a dyslexic child who goes to live with her eccentric Aunt Joan and soon finds herself lost in a world of magical fantasy thanks to a box of toy knights is delivered to Aunt Joan’s home. She visits their castle each night in her dreams and comes to learn more about herself and the people in her worlds, real and imagined.
For Stevenson, writing a book about a struggling child came naturally. In fact, her past young adult novels have all focused on a child facing a problem.
“I think it’s important to write about people who don’t have it as easy as others,” Stevenson said, who is dyslexic herself.
Stevenson said she found writing the novel to be an adventure; one she brought others along with her for. A former accomplished violinist, Stevenson lost her hearing in the early 1980’s and is now unable to type because of a repetitive stress injury in her hands. Stevenson dictated most of A Castle in the Window and a prior book All the Kings Horses. She dedicated the latest book to two Marlboro College students who sat with her for three hours a day for an entire summer typing to complete it. The dedication reads, “my hands and yours.”
“I started out as a violinist and now I can’t hear and now I am a novelist who can’t type,” she laughed. “So I feel pretty strongly about disability. It’s the black angel I tell all my students about, the one that sits on your shoulder and tells you you can’t do this.”
She said writing about children who either triumph over or at least make peace with “serious problems” is something she will likely continue to do in the future.
Stevenson grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. However, ‘home’ to Stevenson shortly became the farm in Vermont where her parents would take her during summers from the age of five. During her Vermont summers, Stevenson would begin the day by practicing the violin for three hours in the loft of the barn.
As a child, Stevenson dreamed of becoming
a novelist. She studied at the University of Michigan and
Yale and became a historian, publishing articles and a book
on Elizabethan literature and culture. Gradually escalating
deafness, however, brought her back to her old Vermont retreat,
where she began to write for her two daughters.
Her earlier books, Happily After All and The Island and The Ring have been short-listed for nine children’s book awards and have been translated into Danish and German.
Stevenson is currently working on a book about six Victorian children’s writers. The book, slated to be complete in August, begins by looking at each of the authors in a series of vignettes.
“The first book I wrote was very academic. I thought I was being so original but when I look back now it was only a product of my training,” she said. “I was fighting a trend that said if you couldn’t do it numerically it wasn’t history and people said the book would be no contribution to knowledge. I just smiled sweetly.”
Stevenson said this latest book she is now writing would read more like a story than an academic writing. While it focuses on an academic area of interest, Stevenson is working to bring history alive.
“I look at the people writing children’s literature in that era (Victorian) and talk about what people thought of children at that time,” she said. “They were writing in a time where child psychology was a very new field and in the 1890’s, children’s literature was the only sure bet in publishing.”
Stevenson and her husband, the poet F.D. Reeve, live in Wilmington, Vermont where she teaches at Marlboro College.
Stevenson’s books are available at the Marlboro College bookstore, Bartleby’s in Wilmington, and the Book Cellar in downtown Brattleboro. For more on Stevenson and her work, visit www.members.authorsguild/lstevenson.