When our daughter was in 6th grade, two of her bookworm cousins introduced her to the Redwall series. In one of my favorite childhood pictures of her, she's sitting on a lawn chair under the mountain ash tree in our backyard clutching a Redwall book in her left hand, clearly engrossed in its pages. On the index finger of her other hand perches a sparrow she was nursing back to health at the time. I don't recall how many Redwall books she devoured, but she made a good dent in the series.
The writer of the Redwall series, Brian Jacques, died this past week. One of my creative writing students at Southwest Minnesota State University who told me the sad news said he had the good fortune to meet Jacques at a reading.
Amazon.com offered this tribute on their web site: "We mourn the passing of Brian Jacques, the British author of the popular Redwall series, who died on February 5 at the age of 71. Jacques created his world of woodland creatures for a school for blind, and because of the nature of his audience he made his writing as descriptive as possible. His books, like The Sable Quean, won the hearts of millions of young readers."
The New York Times article about Jacques notes, "Published in more than 20 countries, the Redwall books have sold more than 20 million copies and inspired an animated series, broadcast on PBS in 2001."
Today, as Interim Director of Creative Writing at SMSU, I received a heavy file box of entries for the Creating Spaces Writing Contest for 3rd through 12th grade students in our region, sponsored by the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative and the Southwest Minnesota State University English Department. Writers like Brian Jacques fire young imaginations and help to create lifelong readers. Among the young writers of poems, stories and essays that our SMSU creative writing students and faculty will be judging, I imagine there are more than a few avid Brian Jacques' fans. And who knows? One of the students entering this contest may be the next Brian Jacques.
Personally, I'm grateful Jacques picked up his pen midlife and that his words hooked a girl who loves all creatures and a tale well told.