20 March 2019

Louis Sachar: An Appreciation

I first discovered Louis Sachar's work in elementary school when I read Sideways Stories from Wayside School. I don't recall how exactly I had a copy of the book--either I bought it for myself at a book fair or my mother bought it for me somewhere. I should have been knee deep in my "biography phase" at the time, so I don't even know why I read it. But I did.

And I loved it.

It was silly and sad, ridiculous and oh-so-real. Wayside School was utterly fictitious, but the children in that classroom on the 30th floor were utterly human.

I devoured Sideways Stories from Wayside School (seriously, it needs to be a TV show on Netflix). I discovered something new every time I read it.

As I grew older, I completed my own elementary, junior high and high school educations. I went on to college and then on to graduate school.

During my first year of grad school, I turned on the Today show and saw Katie Couric talking to that year's Newbery and Caldecott recipients (sadly, they no longer do this). Imagine my surprise when I saw Louis Sachar talking about his novel Holes.

It sounded amazing, so I went out and bought a copy. And it was amazing!

Intricately plotted, heartbreakingly real. I found the story of Stanley Yelnats and the other poor boys at Camp Green Lake equal parts devastating and inspiring. Plus, it was set in Texas.

A few years later, I was lucky enough to escort Louis Sachar around the Texas Book Festival in Austin. During his panel discussion, one young boy stood up to ask the best question I've ever heard asked of an author. He was about eleven years old, and he said, "In Sideways Stories from Wayside School, you said the building was 30 stories tall but there is no 19th floor. So how can it be 30 stories tall?"

To his credit, Louis Sachar took that question in stride and answered it. "Do you know what zen means?"

The boy did not, so the author explained. Then he wrapped it all up. "Sideways Stories is sort of the Zen Guide to Elementary School."

The boy replied, "Okay. Thanks."

I have no idea if that boy remembers asking Louis Sachar that question, but I thought the whole exchange was so delightful that I've remembered it.

If you haven't read anything by Louis Sachar, do yourself a favor. Grab Holes, Sideways Stories, Fuzzy Mud or one of his other tales. There's something to love in all of them.

1 comment:

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