Friday, May 18, 2007

Memories of Lloyd Alexander

Once upon a time, lo these many years ago, I was at BYU--this would have been the 93-94 school year, I think. My roommate Christy, who was an Elementary Music Ed major, was taking a Children's Lit class. Now I pretty much never stopped reading kids' books, so I had a great time talking to her about the stuff she was reading and recommending books, and reading the ones that she brought home. The class sounded like so much fun that I decided to take it the next semester. At the same time Christy found out that Dr. Tunnell and Dr. Jacobs were going to be teaching an evening seminar on Lloyd Alexander. Dr. Tunnell and Dr. Jacobs are both Lloyd Alexander nuts, and have written extensively about him and had a lot of contact with him in the process, and they had convinced Lloyd, who never went anywhere, to come out to BYU and speak, and they had planned this seminar in conjunction with the visit.

We both decided to sign up for the seminar (Christy took it for credit--I audited). Most of the other people were children's librarians and teachers. We read most of his books (some of which I had read before, some I hadn't), heard a lot about Lloyd's life, and were treated to readings from the delightful and out-of-print Janine is French, about how he met his wife. I was taking a bookbinding class at the same time, so I made a link-stitch book with a pig on the front (copied from Eveline Ness's cover illustration of The Book of Three) and a matching clamshell box.

The day of Lloyd's visit, he spoke during the afternoon to a crowded concert hall full of elementary school children. He read from The Arkadians, his most recent book, and answered questions from the audience. I remember one boy asked, "What does Gurgi sound like?" and he replied, "Gurgi sounds like what you think he should sound like." In the evening he came to our class, visited with us and signed all our books. One lady handed him a book open to a specific passage and asked, "Could you read this for us?" It was a bit of Gurgi dialog. Lloyd looked stricken and everybody laughed. Dr. Tunnell said, "There was a boy this afternoon who asked what Gurgi sounded like." And the lady said, "I know! That was my son!" Lloyd did read it for us (I think it was a bit about smackings and whackings on his poor tender head), sounding properly pitiful and squeaky, and we all applauded.



Several people had gifts for Lloyd, and I gave him the book and box I had made. He exclaimed over it for a while and gave me a kiss on the cheek (awww!).

We had watched a film in class earlier where Lloyd talked about answering fan mail, and showed off a few things that readers had made for him, like some little figures of the Prydain characters. So I pictured him keeping my little book in his office and maybe showing it off to somebody else later. Shortly afterwards I got this letter.

Best known for his Prydain Chronicles, Lloyd Alexander wrote nearly forty books, many of which feature cats and/or spunky redheads. He passed away May 17th at the age of 83, at home in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. His wife Janine died just two weeks ago. They were married for 62 years.

8 comments:

Emily said...

I didn't know he passed away. What a great memory you have of him...thank you for sharing it with us!

Rona said...

You are lucky to have met him! Wow, that must have been a real treat!

Jen said...

Wow, what a fabulous post for a wonderful man. Thanks.

Julie K in Taiwan said...

I adore Gurgi. You get to meet all the great authors, I'm jealous!

jackelope said...

I always assumed Gurgi sounded exactly like Grover from "Sesame Street."

Fretful Porpentine said...

Gosh, what a fabulous story. Thanks for sharing. (Here from your link at the Straight Dope, BTW.)

Theresa Hernandez said...

Wow, I didn't know he had passed away. What a great experience and I love that picture of you!!

Chris said...

Hi, Helena! Great memories. Thanks for all the fun read-alouds and book recs that semester, and for being my partner in crime during that wonderful class. What a blast. Even though Lloyd is gone, he's still my hero, and kid lit still rules the bookshelves in our house (well, my half of the shelves, anyway). Take care!