Celebrating, and thanking, Judith Byron Schachner

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Earlier this summer we made our way through Philadelphia International Airport security to participate in the unveiling of the Philadelphia's Literary Legacy exhibition. I was, as I most often am, a fish out of water, not quite sure what to do with myself on this day of buzz and celebration.

I was saved by the stunningly beautiful face of Judith Byron Schachner, whom I'd met only briefly a few weeks before. Judith is one of America's most beloved children's book author/illustrators. She is also one of the most humble, gracious, generous people you'll ever find, anywhere. She won't tell you about her bestsellers or awards. She won't allude to the depth of her talent. What she will do is stand there and look at you with her glorious eyes and talk with you about birds and life and big things. She'll give you nicknames, too, and you'll run with it.

Somewhere in a book I once wrote, Judith had read how much I love to receive letters—the real things that come in the mail. A few days ago she hinted that a package was coming my way, and so I anticipated a small note, a something J. Byronesque clever. I could not have foreseen the gift of one of Judith's books, Mr. Emerson's Cook—the book wrapped in magical paper that needed no tape, the book accompanied by a homemade card, the card accompanied by a Skippyjon Jones bookmark, the interior envelope decorated by Skippy stickers. Judith researched, wrote, and illustrated this masterpiece about the Irish cook who enters Mr. Emerson's home and feeds him well. She conjured "a broccoli forest alight with yellow melting butterflies" and a "Sunrise Pie" and a "fog" that "lifted from the pot and floated all the way down the hall into Mr. Emerson's study." This book is gorgeous—every word of it, every line and hue. It's also personal, for as we learn in the Afterword:
My own introduction to Mr. Emerson occurred when I was a child. My father, the grandson of Annie Burns Byron, would bring me to the town of Concord to swim in Waldon Pond and stand in the place where the embattled farms, in Emerson's words, "fired the shot heard round the world." We visited Mr. Emerson's house, and I would beg my father to tell me again the story about my great-grandmother, who was Mr. Emerson's cook.
J. Byron Schachner: you are one of those human beings who elevates the world, glistens it, makes birdsong rise out of pie. Our association has been brief, but your impact is already lasting. Thank you for being you and for doing what you do.

4 comments:

Kelly Fineman said...

I just HAVE to get my hands on that book - it sounds glorious!

KFP said...

Beth: You have beautifully articulated what I have known to be true about J. Byron Schachner for over 30 years, but have been unable to tell her so precisely: "One of the most humble, gracious, generous people you'll ever find, anywhere...one of those human beings who elevates the world, glistens it, makes birdsong rise out of pie..." Plus she is hysterically funny and a creative genius. And very wise.

Elfarran said...

Judy was an honored guest at our PA Writing Institute, a week-long grad. class at Millersville University a few years ago. We always saved our Friday speaker spot for an author, illustrator, poet, or other kind of creator. We could not have been more inspired by Judy's presence. She was so completely amazing that all 60 participants were a) completely in love with her humanity and b) ready to go forth and write, create, and share that ineffable spirit with their own writing students. She sat for HOURS signing copies of her books, all with individual notes and illustrations. She shines forth with love. It was a privilege to meet and speak with her!

Serena said...

All of this is just gorgeous...what a kind gesture!

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