I don’t have very many vivid recollections from my childhood, but I do remember being in the sixth grade, going to the school library, browsing the shelves, and pulling THE GREY KING off–I remember all of that very vividly with precise sensory details. By then, I had developed the knack for sniffing out fantasy without asking the librarian or consulting the card catalog: 1. Glance at the title, 2. Check out the cover, and 3. Read the jacket copy. THE GREY KING sounded kind of like THE HIGH KING (a book I had already read) and it had that alternate British spelling of the word gray and the more British a fantasy was (Lewis, Tolkien) the better it was, right? I also like the cover art which had kind of an otherworldly quality to it. Clearly, it passed the eye test so I checked it out, took it home, read it, and fell headlong into the eternal struggle between the Light and the Dark.
I read the rest of the series completely out of order: THE DARK IS RISING, GREENWITCH, and OVER SEA, UNDER STONE. But then–horror of horrors!–I had to wait for the final volume, SILVER ON THE TREE, because it hadn’t been published yet. Or so I thought. See, this was circa 1982 and SILVER ON THE TREE would have been out for five years by then! Maybe I should have asked the librarian. Or maybe she should have ordered all the books in the series! Or taught me about copyright date. Or something. Oh, how I pined for that final book! Anyway, a couple of years later I found a paperback edition in a bookstore, and I was overjoyed that it had finally–finally!–been published.
Flash forward about 20 years. I was attending Children’s Literature New England, a really cool week-long children’s literature seminar for die-hard junkies. I arrived a day early, booked a hotel room for the night (before moving into the dorms for the seminar), and it was not until I got fully inside the elevator and the doors shut that I noticed who else was there with me: Susan Cooper. (And, oh yeah, there was this fellow named Hume Cronyn, too, but he’s not important to this story.) I was so starstruck and tongue-tied. I spent the short elevator ride admiring my shoes. And despite the intimate nature of the seminar–probably a couple hundred attendees–I never mustered up the courage to introduce myself to her. What would I say? How could I articulate how much her books meant to me? I simply couldn’t do it.
Flash forward another 10 years or so. I was on the 2012 Margaret Edwards committee which recognizes an author for her significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. As we sifted and sorted our way through dozens of worthy authors, we finally settled on Susan Cooper as our choice and cited the Dark Is Rising sequence as her significant and lasting contribution. It’s probably pretty rare that you get to serve on a lifetime achievement committee and give the award to an author that made a huge impact on you as a young reader. This bit of serendipity affords my twelve- to fourteen-year old self the opportunity to validate the sentiments I felt in that elevator, but could never voice. Thank you, Susan Cooper. Thank you.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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