I never met Roger Ebert. But I feel connected to him on quite an intimate level, just one degree of separation.
Several years ago, I submitted a short piece for an anthology edited by the indefatigable Anita Silvey. (If you don’t know her amazing Book-A-Day blog, get thee hence immediately. http://childrensbookalmanac.com/ ) The anthology is titled EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK. Along with more than one hundred other people (from Jay Leno and Julianne Moore to Deval Patrick and Steve Wozniak), I was asked to respond to the question, “What children’s book changed the way you see the world?”
I had a terrible time deciding on which book to write about. (ROOSEVELT GRADY, by Louisa Shotwell; WHAT THEN, RAMAN? by Shirley Arora; A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, by Betty Smith…were three other candidates among the many I considered.) Finally, I ended up writing about THE SATURDAYS, by Elizabeth Enright. Here’s how I ended my essay:
The book was one of several that made me want to live in New York–and when I grew up, I did.
When I received my author copy of the finished book, one of the things that most interested me was the handful of instances where more than one person had selected the same book. HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, by Crockett Johnson, was chosen by both Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg. Tiki Barber, Donna Shalala, and Edward Villella had all written about Watty Piper’s THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. Beatrix Potter’s animal stories were the choice of Ken Follett and Beverly Clearly.
I’m sure by now you’ve guessed where this is going.
One other person chose THE SATURDAYS. Roger Ebert wrote about how much he loved Enright’s Melendy family adventures–THE SATURDAYS is the first in the series.
Those books were the first real ones I ever read. They taught me that stories could be wonderful…
I wish I’d had the chance to meet Mr. Ebert. I know we would have had a terrific conversation about our beloved mutual friends, the Melendys.