William Faulkner’s children’s books prove to be powerful mix of childhood imagination and serious inspiration

Written by Staff Writer at CNN New York, Jason Wells, originally published on CNN. “The Faulkner Poems for Children,” by William Faulkner and L.N. Johnson, was published in 1961. This was 14 years after…

William Faulkner's children's books prove to be powerful mix of childhood imagination and serious inspiration

Written by Staff Writer at CNN New York, Jason Wells, originally published on CNN.

“The Faulkner Poems for Children,” by William Faulkner and L.N. Johnson, was published in 1961. This was 14 years after “Butterfly Girl,” a book of his that celebrates African American women.

“The Destiny of a Warrior,” a 1941 book by Langston Hughes, won the National Book Award for children’s literature the same year as Faulkner’s kids’ book.

Tina Faulkner, a novelist who’s married to novelist William Faulkner, acknowledges “there’s only a very small likelihood” her husband was working on children’s books. But, she insists, “William had a true passion for children’s literature.”

Tracy Chevalier, a journalist and the author of two books about Faulkner, echoes this notion, noting that “in the early ’50s, he was reading to (infant) granddaughters.”

1 / 10 Loading… As a young writer in the 1930s, the Mississippi native experienced the strange and bustling nature of Savannah. Everything you need to know about one of the most seminal cities in the United States, in a photo gallery that is part of Worldchamp: Savannah The collection of photographs from the 1970s and 1980s has never been out of print. While Savannah is a safe, fairly uncomplicated place to explore in the ’70s and ’80s, when many Americans were questioning their daily lives, a looming crisis in the world — U.S. involvement in Vietnam — threatened to engulf the Gulf Coast, Faulkner had written, “. . . but I think I like the way it looks now, it’s light in the winter, it’s so full of trees.” So he loaded his car with the second edition of his 1949 novel, “The Sound and the Fury.” When it was deposited in front of the Lincoln Bedroom, where President Eisenhower and his wife Mamie were staying, “he fell over and started screaming with all the joy of a very unwell child,” said Mrs. Faulkner in a 1998 profile by Mike Elgan.

Still, what matters the most is the overall quality of the book, and L.N. Johnson says she doesn’t expect to achieve that.

“That’s a very high standard, but you can try,” Johnson says. “I hope it inspires them to explore, I hope they feel passionate. You can’t necessarily expect anyone to be writing those poems the way they’re written now.”

Even though Faulkner had a personal love for children’s books and children’s books writing, Johnson says Faulkner didn’t think he was “a great writer, a great poet” by the time he was a teenager. In fact, he had goals to build his life as a writer. He wanted to be a writer who could influence society.

“It was sort of innate he wanted to write, but he was trying to figure out how to do it,” she says.

Much of this thinking appears to have shaped the content of “The Fate of the First Rebel Girl,” and Johnson says she knows for a fact that Faulkner had learned from work in other children’s authors that the emotional resonances of children’s stories are powerful.

She also points to the recent success of author Roald Dahl, whose work had a dual genesis — the English-born author was a Holocaust survivor and writer of children’s books who’s also built his career around dark themes. That capacity for empathy was also clearly in Faulkner’s mind when he wrote his children’s book.

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