Friday, March 27, 2009

Onion John, and the Story Behind the Story

Peter at Collecting Children's Books is always turning up the best bits of information--I've already passed along the Paula Fox/Courtney Love connection to everyone I talk to who could possibly be interested--and today he's got a great post about the history behind Joseph Krumgold's Onion John.

Onion John was one of my favorite Newbery discoveries; I thought it was a very funny and honest exploration of fathers and sons, kind of like It's Like This, Cat (but if you're one of the many people who mysteriously dislikes that title, don't let my comparison turn you off Onion John). I had dreaded reading it, but found it immediately delightful.

Peter mentions that today, when a book is based on a true story, we generally know a lot about it from the beginning; with older books it's harder. I LOVE finding out the stories behind books, even if it's just finding out what inspired the author. But do others find that half the fun is in the exploration and fact-finding? Most of the time, the true story isn't nearly as interesting as the book; or if the book follows the true story too closely, it can be disappointing to discover that the author wasn't as creative as she seemed.

Digging through archives to discover whether a particular magazine cover really existed is great--I spent a splendid afternoon at the Carleton library looking for yearbook photos of the "real" Molly, Tina, and Janet from Tam Lin, and a few mornings finding every scrap of information I could in the archives about the "real" Carney from the Betsy-Tacy books, who spent a miserable year at Carleton before going off to Vassar--but seldom, when the hunt is over, am I left with anything that really enriches the fiction. And sometimes when you find a true story, you wish you hadn't--I never reread Beverly Cleary's The Luckiest Girl now without remembering that Cleary wrote in her memoir that the family hadn't invited her back for a second year in California.


mamster said...

I don't want to meet the people who don't think _It's Like This Cat_ is a great title.

LaurieA-B said...

I get a sort of sick satisfaction out of researching things that CANNOT be found online (probably a result of spending every day with children who have never known the world without Internet). 1950s author Jean Nielsen, for example--there is virtually no information about her found through Google search. But I had a lot of fun looking for her at UW's Suzzallo Library, with greater success.

Sandy D. said...

I confess, I didn't *love* "It's Like This, Cat"....but I'm looking forward to reading "Onion John" more now (I got pretty bogged down in "And Now, Miguel").

Researching "Island of the Blue Dolphins" made me even more depressed about the story. I almost wished I hadn't Googled:

Sadako said...

I just googled it--god, that's so sad, Sandy D. I loved that story growing up.