Tuesday, February 9, 2021



I found this question on an internet post about questions that are not clichéd, which you might want to ask writers.

Unlike these questions below: 

Where do you get your ideas?” (Here, there and everywhere) “What is your writing process?” (Butt in chair no matter what) or “What advice do you have for writers?” (Write, period.) 

These three are nice questions, but they are not interesting because they've been sprinkled about all the way from Ho-humVille to SoozzzzBay. 😴

So on to the better questions list. The one about the first book that made me cry jumped at me.

Many books have made me cry. But the first? The very first?

Obviously, this isn’t a factual research question. The memory of a one or two year old can’t be reliable. A two year old may cry out of fear or shock, and I sense the question is about a different sort of crying, empathetic sadness.

Which brings me to the first storybook that gave me this experience, and the answer is as clear as it is easy for me. Hans Christian Andersen’s THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL made me cry at the age of four, and does to this day every time I re-read it.

When I read it to my kids, DD would stare into my eyes to see the waterworks begin, because they always did. I would tell myself that I know the story and I will not cry this time, but invariably and inevitably, I did.

This story breaks all the conventions taught today in kidlit workshops: It ends sadly, the main character dies, people left behind do not “change” and the narration is much more “tell” than “show.” Yet newly illustrated versions keep popping up. {It’s good to remember to let go of these conventions in the service of great literature.}

I’ve never been to Copenhagen, but in lieu of paying homage to a great storyteller there, I sat on the knee of the master when I last visited Central Park in New York.

Above all, a writer must know empathy. I owe Hans Christen Andersen the empathetic strain he awakened in me all the way back when, and to this day.


Kelly Hashway said...

I can't remember the first book that made me cry. There have been plenty as an adult, though.

Janie Junebug said...

You and Hans look good together. The first book that made me cry was On The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think I was 8. I cried because Jack the brindle bulldog died.


Sue said...

Thanks for sharing. I can't remember the first book that made me cry. Hmm. Wish I did.

I do remember my kids looking at me when we were rewatching movies that make me cry, is she crying yet?

Thinking about crying over movies, I sure cried over Old Yeller.

Barbara Etlin said...

Anne of Green Gables. It was the first middle grade novel I read by myself. I remember being shocked and upset when a major character died near the end. When I was seven, I thought that killing off a character (at least in a kids' book) was against the rules.

Evelyn said...

My memory's not good enough for me to remember the first book that made me cry, but there have been plenty ever since. I'm a very emotional person and I absolutely put myself into the characters I read about, so if the characters are crying there's about a 99% chance that I'm crying as well.

Evelyn said...

I posted a comment, but it didn't seem to go through. Please let me know if you didn't get it.

Mirka Breen said...

I moderate all comments, so after someone posts a comment, I get a notice in my Email and it only posts after I approve. Sometime (if I'm away from email) it can take several hours. I appreciate all who read this blog, and your commenting, Ev

janlcoates said...

Love that picture - reconnecting with your via Twitter (which I'm not very good at using) - and I think mine was BLACK BEAUTY...

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

"It’s good to remember to let go of these conventions in the service of great literature." That is so true, and so easy to forget once one starts reading all the advice books on writing. I can't remember the first book (fiction) that made me cry; usually it's poetry that moves me to tears. But I do remember in college I cried all through War and Peace. So many sad lives. It was required reading, but it turned on my love of Russian literature for a long time.

Mirka Breen said...

"...I cried all through War and Peace."

War and Peace is such a long book. That was a very long cry, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

It was! Yes. BTW, I use Safari, so Blogger seems to be over its rejection of Safari. I know last year I had to do a roundabout through Firefox to post on some blogs. I'm glad that's over. :-)