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December 24, 2013

Wendy Webb: Stories That Never Grow Old

Posted by emily

Wendy Webb is the award-winning author of THE TALE OF HALCYON CRANE and THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN. Her latest book, THE VANISHING (which releases on January 21st), is about Julia Bishop, whose life is collapsing around her when a stranger appears on her doorstep with an intriguing job offer: He asks Julia to be a companion for his elderly mother, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist Amaris Sinclair, whom the whole world thinks is dead. In her Holiday Author Blog, Wendy opens up about one meaningful Christmas spent in the ER with her young son, and just how enchanting stories can be, especially if you’re able to see the magic between the pages.

Every year, along with all of the Barbies, Easy Bake Ovens, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and Slinkies under the tree, my brothers and I would always find books. The stories that I read as a young child filled me with magic and myth and mystery, lighting up my imagination and inspiring me to create stories of my own.

My family lived in a Minneapolis suburb, but some days I was swaying from side to side in a covered wagon as we moved from the LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS to LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Other days, I wandered down enchanted paths to witches’ cottages, to farmyards filled with talking animals and to cozy lodges where defiant little ducks stood fearless in the face of the North Wind in STORIES THAT NEVER GROW OLD.

While my brothers were joining James T. Kirk to explore galaxies where no man (or boy) had gone before, I was traveling back in time as the headstrong sister with a passion for writing in LITTLE WOMEN. And A WRINKLE IN TIME --- no other book was more influential for me. It showed me what I wanted to do with my life. When I closed that book, I knew I wanted to write magical, mysterious stories like that one.

I still have all of those books on my bookshelf, the very same ones I read and loved as a child. Easy Bake Ovens come and go. But those volumes are my sacred treasures.

It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve tried to pass along my love of books to my son. We’d read together every night before I’d tuck him into bed and he’d fall asleep saying goodnight to the moon. When he got a bit older, we’d laugh until we ached at the adventures of a boy who saved the world in his underpants, and we were enchanted by a wardrobe that lead from a country house to a frozen world far away.

And every December, we’d pull our favorite holiday classics from the bookshelf, laughing at the Grinch and spying Santa along with a man in his nightshirt and cap on the night before Christmas. Marley’s ghost always scared us, but we loved the Ghost of Christmas Present.

One of my favorite holiday memories of books doesn’t involve a holiday classic at all, and it happened in a very unlikely place --- the hospital ER.

My son was very young, no more than six or seven years old. It was Christmas Eve, and carloads of grandparents and friends were on their way. The tree was glittering with lights, dinner was simmering on the stove, the house was flickering with candles. And my son informed me that he was sick.

He crept out of his room and down to the kitchen looking like a wet rag. Worse, he was burning up with fever. I called the doctor and she told me take him to the ER. Best not to take any chances. So I bundled him up and we were nearly out the door when at the last moment, I grabbed one of the gifts for him that I had tucked under the tree. It was a beautiful, illustrated version of THE HOBBIT. I knew how long ER waits could be, and I thought we could look at it together to help pass the time. I hoped to get some medication and have him tucked into his own bed at home long before the relatives descended.

It was not to be. He had pneumonia and had become very dehydrated. We’d be spending the night there. As I sat with my precious boy in the ER on Christmas Eve, his arm hooked up to both fluids and antibiotics, his little hand in mine, his eyes fluttering closed, I opened THE HOBBIT and began to read aloud.

There weren’t many other patients in the ER that night. All was dark and quiet. A single light above my son’s bed illuminated the pages. As I read the tale of hobbits and wizards, trolls and dragons, adventure and elves, my son’s eyes began to open. Soon, I noticed a nurse, and then another, and then a doctor with a clipboard, all standing there, listening. Everyone who wasn’t tending to a patient had gathered around the mother reading to her son in the ER on Christmas Eve.

Not the ideal way to spend the holiday, but magical all the same. I encourage you to find a little magic of your own between the pages of a book during this enchanted season, and all throughout the year. I know I will be doing the same.