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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Susan Cooper

oversea2 191x300 Susan CooperI 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 otherworldlydarkisrising2 194x300 Susan Cooper 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 greenwitch1 195x300 Susan Cooperbeen 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 cooper41 196x300 Susan Cooperseminar), 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 cooper52 Susan Cooperintimate 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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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Excellent, excellent choice. I can’t wait to hear her speak in Anaheim.

  2. Betsy says:

    I *love* Susan Cooper’s work!!! I wrote about Greenwitch in my MA thesis. I’m WAY overdue for a reread of her marvelous work. So glad she was recognized.

  3. Chelle says:

    I read The Dark is Rising almost every Christmas. Thank you for honoring her. Maybe this will make up for the movie version…

  4. Sarah Flowers says:

    And I suspect that when you meet her in June, you’ll manage to find something to say to her!

  5. Wonderful post, Jonathan. She has made such an impact on so many. I own the whole set and as Betsy said I am overdue in rereading her work.

    By, the way, I did read The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True, since you read Icefall. Two completely different titles…but Sir Gawain was particularly funny and very well written.

  6. Cecilia says:

    This was the announcement that got me on my feet clapping at the computer on Monday morning. I love The Dark is Rising sequence, but it is her book King of Shadows that is a touchstone for me and my three siblings (we are all professional theater performers, as well as readers). I was lucky enough to meet Cooper at the National Book Festival in September and am thrilled that she has been recognized with this award.

  7. Nina Lindsay says:

    This may be the root of where Jonathan and my reading tastes overlap. Susan Cooper was the only author I ever wrote to as a child who wrote back to me… but she was already a star for me before I got the letter. I can still recite from memory, like riding a bicycle:

    When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
    Three from the circle, three from the track;
    Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
    Five will return, and one go alone.

    Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
    Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
    Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
    Six Signs the circle, and the grail gone before.

    Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
    Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
    Power from the greenwitch, lost beneath the sea;
    All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

    You know, maybe not a great poem. Kind of hokey? But for the young reader: the perfect incantation. It’s a good touchstone for me, as a reminder of what reaches a young ear in a certain way.

  8. Sondy says:

    I didn’t discover Susan Cooper until I was an adult. (Hmm. 1982? I was in college then, so no wonder.) But how I loved her when I’d found her.

    She’s also written a fabulous book about being a writer. I think it’s called A Sense of Wonder. I loved that book, too. And it leads me to suspect that she’ll give an incredible speech at the Margaret Edwards Luncheon.

  9. leda says:

    Among my very very favorites as well, and I also remain in awe of Susan Cooper. I did have to wait for the books to be released as they were written. Torture! When snow comes, if ever, reading the series again is always a gift to myself.

  10. Sondy says:

    I was confusing Katharine Paterson’s book, A Sense of Wonder, with Susan Cooper’s book, Dreams and Wishes. Both are about writing for children and both are excellent. I’m going to reread Dreams and Wishes before attending the Margaret Edwards Luncheon.

  11. DaNae says:

    By a happy coincidence I had the GREENWITCH audio going in my van the day of the announcement. I’ve been leisurely revisiting the series with a splendid British narrator. I just finished it today. What a magical atmosphere Cooper wove. It was lovely to loose myself in it.

  12. DaNae says:

    By a happy coincidence I had the GREENWITCH audio going in my van the day of the announcement. I’ve been leisurely revisiting the series with a splendid British narrator. I just finished it today. What a magical atmosphere Cooper wove. It was lovely to loose myself in it.

  13. Connie Rockman says:

    I remember vividly my first time reading The Dark Is Rising. I was a relatively new librarian and this was the first fantasy that came close to matching my adoration of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. I took it home to my son whose birthday is on the winter solstice and he read it during that Christmas break when he turned 11 just as Will did – how’s that for serendipity? The fact that Susan dedicated that book to her son Jonathan (did you notice that, J. Hunt?) and my son’s name is also Jonathan – well, that was icing on a very delicious cake.

    I’ve used Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children during all my years of teaching children’s and adolescent lit. to make non-fantasy readers understand the power and purity of fine fantasy. Susan’s essays on writing fantasy – and especially her Newbery speech for The Grey King – are the best I have ever found. Her Edwards speech with be a knock-out, I promise!

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Yes, Connie, I noticed it was dedicated to Jonathan–but not until I reread it as an adult. How perfect for the subset of Susan Cooper fans fortunate enough to be named Jonathan! Thanks for sharing your experience with your son. I, too, really love DREAMS AND WISHES–and look forward to her speech!

  15. Thomas Lark says:

    Cooper is WONDERFUL.
    Anyone heard about her coming to speak anywhere near North Carolina?

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