Novels edited by Patricia Lee Gauch

Stories Behind Stories

Patti, Brian Jacques, artist Christopher Denise

The Redwall epic by Brian Jacques: Only two months after I came to Philomel I was given a galley of Redwall being produced by Century Hutchinson, then a British publisher; it was the first book in the epic. From the first page it was clear the language was magnificent, rich in images, and “place” with character (the mouse Mathias) at the very heart of the book. It was also violent. Despite the fact that Redwall was always referred to as the peaceful abbey, its mice and other good animals were under siege by rats and ferrets and the battles were fierce. This was 1986, Vietnam still in our memory; what responsibility did I have as publisher to promote peace rather than violence? I stewed.

In the end, I decided that Brian’s characters and indeed the plots themselves always strove for peace, and he celebrated the animals’ efforts vibrantly. Writing in longhand in his writing shed in Liverpool, England, he would then gather his 400-plus pages and bring them to me, reading to me the first pages of his finally typed manuscript. What a extraordinary experience for me! I have always thought Brian a genius, through all sixteen Redwall books I edited. And still do. In many ways, publishing to the numbers that he did, he not only etched out a permanent place for himself in the young reader’s genre, he prepared the way for Harry Potter.

Patti and T.A. Barron, about 1990

T.A. Barron and his Kate and Merlin cycles. Tom came to me through Madeleine L’Engle. He was then a young venture capitalist in New York City, wanting desperately to leave the business world and discover a career as a writer. He had things to say. Having grown up on a ranch in Colorado, he spent every waking hour out in the mountains or paths near his home. By the time he was a Princeton student he recognized he was a steward of the land, and that sense is a motivating force in all of his books. My happiest moments with Tom were in his mountain cabin where we would pull up two chairs and figure out, so happily, “What next?” His early Kate books had led him to The Merlin Effect as the third book. Looking out over the mountain meadows to the east, our feet comfortably up on stools, Merlin came to him as a possibility for a next book. Having been a great fan of Lloyd Alexander and his Prydain series, I was delighted with the idea. Then Tom discovered there was actually a period of time – Merlin’s adolescence – that was almost, well, lost. No one had written about those years. It was into that void that Tom slipped, producing eleven Merlin books in all, following the life of a very natural Merlin, a steward of the earth as well as a hero. I worked with Tom for twenty four years, all of them an adventure. There are authors that want to change the world; he is one.

Other Novels, with commentary

As with picture books, novels are selected carefully because the process to make a novel is a lengthy one, and the young adult audience is particular! This list, then, is just a sampling.

I Am Regina by Sally Keehn, an Indian captive story which became a staple in classrooms across the country.
Miracle at Clement’s Pond by Patricia Pendergraft, a country tale about a child who is left on the doorstep of a villager’s house. A movie, as well as popular novel.
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements, a modern classic about a boy who wakes up and is truly invisible. First in cycle of three books about Robert who, in becoming invisible, begins to truly see.

Our Secret: Siri Aang, by Cristina Kessler, an African story, authentic and touching, about a girl who bravely befriends a rhinoceros and is confronted by hunters. Winner of the ASCPA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award.

Highway Cats by Janet Lisle, a sassy, witty and important story about a group of scruffy cats occupying an old cemetery who in adopting three castaway kittens, discover their own courage and stand up to city bulldozers trying to steal their land.
When the Whistle Blows by Fran Slayton. A story about a railroad town that is threatened when the diesel takes over, and about a young boy who adventures in these last days. The second from the last chapter when the father saves his son is one of the best I have read in all my years as reader.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. National Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, 2010. A powerfully warm and poignant story told by Scout, an Asperger’s Syndrome child who, on the death of her beloved brother, is in search of “closure.”

The Queen’s Own Fool by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris. The fool of Mary Queen of Scots gives readers an inside glimpse of the loves and adventures and eventual escape of the Scottish queen. First of a Scottish quartet of adventure-loving historical fiction by the duo.
Blue Stem by Frances Arrington: Set in a prairie world of the 1870s, two young sisters, suddenly alone on the prairie but armed with their love for each other, dare to face a challenging new world. Arrington captures the beauty of the prairie itself in poetic prose, as well as the pioneer spirit of the heroic girls.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear by Michael Morpurgo. Morpurgo turns a private country school inside out, bringing to life one of my favorite characters, Christopher, a new boy with a secret and no fear of anyone. Or anything.
Cousins by Virginia Hamilton. Using her remarkable voice, Newbery award winner Hamilton introduces five unforgettable cousins.