The short story is a form I love and admire. I admire writers who are able to distil character, story, and setting to the simple perfection of this elegant form. The short story, for me, remains elusive and enigmatic. For kids who might balk at a large novel, a short story collection is a nice alternative; it provides the same depth of character, story, and perception as a novel, yet in managable portions. Michael Mopurgo’s short stories are intensely personal and yet manage to convey an epic feeling. His stories often deal with WWII, animals, and brushes with the fantastic. He is a thoughtful and sensitive writer who loves the sound of words. When kids ask me for just “a good story,” his books are the ones I reach for.
In this collection, Morpurgo has selected his favourite of his own stories and interspersed them with essays and ruminations on life, his past, and writing. I think this concept is genius and that all children’s laureates should write something similar. Perhaps it could be a requirement of the position. Think of the life lessons we would all learn! It’s fascinating to meet the people and the places that have inspired a story, and hear about how Morpurgo struggled in school and with his path in life. Kids are hungry for biography and the kind of “behind the story” information this book provides. If I had found this book when I was a kid I know it would have become a personal bible, heck, even now it is a personal bible! Morpurgo is an inspiring, humble, gifted man with beautiful things to say. Having one of those days where the world doesn’t make sense? Let Morpurgo repaint the world for you. I promise you’ll feel better. No amount of tea, self-help books, or yoga could bring me to the level of zen and understanding that Morpurgo’s writing does.
This is a great book for so many different kinds of readers that I am not going to bother listing them. I already have many of the stories included in this collection in other books and yet I had to have Singing for Mrs. Pettigrew. I dare any librarian to read I Believe in Unicorns and not weep. Read The Giant’s Necklace to the most jaded of ghost-story lovers and see if they don’t shiver. Morpurgo’s stories are a love song to a way of life that seems to have passed, they are a call to action, a celebration of the human spirit, and they are touched ever so slightly by magic. Sometimes the magic is a ghost, a miracle, or a fairy, but sometimes the magic is simply the way the story unfolds. A masterpiece from a true master.
Singing for Mrs. Pettigrew is published by Candlewick Press. Naturally.