of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we
focus on a particular author or artist, sometimes we use this space
to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like
to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books.
See the archive for focus pieces from previous
Regular readers of these focus pieces may already have gathered that I have a particular affection for everyday-life stories, those fictions where readers follow a character or characters around their daily dramas rather than hanging on every plot poin t. This month our focus turns on an author who has proved herself a consistently deft creator of those often underappreciated stories, and whose books are mostly written for the underserved younger readers to boot.
Ann Cameron has been writing for children for nearly twenty years now. Right from the beginning, her stories about the members of the Bates family (first older son Julian, then his little brother Huey) displayed a knack for insightful but understated d ocumentation of family life. Julian and Huey narrate their own stories, which ensures that their thought processes are up-close and personal, but also requires their creator to tread carefully, avoiding giving them insights they shouldn't have or making t hem funny at their own expense. Cameron avoids those pitfalls, staying out of the way and instead trusting her characters'own voices to speak for themselves.
And speak for themselves they do. The rhythm and offhand creativity of a young child's observations are perfectly captured in these books. When Huey contemplates telling his friend Gloria about his frightening dream, he is "scared she'd nothing it,like Julian." When he stares down in horror at a restaurant dish of trout, he notes, "his eye was big and white and sad and cooked." That delicate authorial control that spins "nothing" into a verb (and haven't we all been nothinged in our time) and finishes up the trout sentence with the visceral finality of "cooked" drives all of Cameron's writing. It's so unassuming that it looks easy, but to be so precise and evocative, distinctive and yet universal is never easy. There's nothing throwaway here: even simp le statements of fact ("I tried to look at Julian's book too. But Julian wouldn't let me. Whenever I tried to, he covered it with his arm and poked me in the ribs with his elbow") establish the book's knowledge of the kid world.
In her latest book, The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods, Cameron opens her aperture a bit to allow for a middle-schooler's greater level of understanding, but she loses none of her acuity. Amanda's time of change and familial reassessment is to ld with the same consistent authenticity and telling phraseology as the fiction about younger children, but now those characteristics serve more complicated concepts: self-determination, the possibility of parental unhappiness, the chance for individual g rowth. Cameron keeps Amanda's struggle as immediate as Huey's, however, and similarly treats her viewpoint with understanding and respect. Her craft is a quiet one, but in that very quietness lies its excellence.-Deborah Stevenson, Assistant Editor
This page was last updated on August 1, 1998.