Just over a week ago the snow melted into daffodils. My husband and I took advantage of the springlike day and walked to Millie’s for brunch. A young couple sat next to us and read The New Yorker. Each had a copy of the current issue, a clue that they were dating and not married. (Otherwise they would have just one copy.) A conversation was inevitable; I can’t resist finding out why people read what they read. And I’d been thinking about The New Yorker as I taught memoir to my third graders. My own understanding of memoir has been shaped by that magazine.
It turns out their parents (both sets) are readers of The New Yorker and give them subscriptions every Christmas. They grew up on the same magazine in different states. (Great marriages have been made on less, but I managed to keep that to myself.)
My subscription, too, is a gift from my mother. And her subscription was a gift from her mother, a charter New Yorker subscriber in February of 1925. For over fifty years, my grandmother read every issue from cover to cover. They piled up on her bedside table, waiting their turn, while she read them in order. My approach is different. I read what I can, something wonderful each week, and move on to the new issue as soon as it comes. My choices are often based on a phone call with my mom or my friend Cindy or my sister in law, Debbi. “You’ll love this,” we say to each other. And we do.
We won’t be talking about The New Yorker this week in Room 204, but we’ll meet some of its greatest contributors through the stellar books they wrote for children. In writing, William Steig, James Thurber, and E.B. White would be considered crossover artists: chart toppers in more than one category. At The New Yorker, their elegant contributions were for adults — but their writing for children tops charts, too.
We will do an author study of William Steig. No other artist has created as many New Yorker covers (July 26, 1958 is shown above) . He won the Caldecott medal for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and also wrote Shrek. And we’ll start Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White this week. It was chosen as a Newberry Honor Book. I can’t think of a children’s book I love more.
After E.B. White’s death in 1985, The New Yorker described his “boundless and gallant capacity for wonder.” As a teacher, I want that boundless and gallant capacity for wonder for my students. Academic success is arid without it. So is life. Writing life is loving life. For adults, and for children.