In search of wonder: Magic tales for children
by Daniel McCabe
[ ILLUSTRATIONS FROM FLOOD FISH, © SHELDON GREENBERG ]
Robyn Eversole will be quick to tell you that writing children's books isn't child's play. The author of several works for four-to-eight-year-olds, Eversole chooses the words she uses with a craftswoman's eye for detail. Her sentences have a musical texture and the tales they tell are delicate and full of wonder.
The world Eversole herself explores as a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology is fascinating in its own right. Contacted recently by the Reporter in Bolivia, Eversole is busy at work on a doctoral thesis that examines the role played by small entrepreneurs and organizations in fostering economic growth in underdeveloped countries.
She's been interviewing carpenters, chocolate-makers and artisans and examining the impact cooperatives and small credit associations have on their communities.
"My goal is always to be doing at least two things simultaneously, and not to have to live in just one place," says Eversole, who has been dividing her time recently between Bolivia, Montreal and her native West Virginia.
Eversole began writing regularly as an eight-year-old. While she demonstrated a natural flair as a wordsmith, she didn't become truly comfortable with her writing until she began seeing the world through the eyes of an anthropologist.
"When I first left West Virginia at age 16, I was already technically a rather good writer for my age, but I was clueless about observation," recounts Eversole. "Both writing and anthropology imply a certain amount of psychology--observing people--and a strong awareness of your environment. When I came back [home] after living elsewhere, as a neighbour rather succinctly put it, 'I remember you walked around that whole summer staring at the hills.'"
Her interest in people and places has fueled Eversole's work as an anthropologist. It has also served her well in her career as a children's book author.
Her books have been featured on the popular PBS kids shows Storytime and Pappyland and recommended by a panel of authors on CBC Radio's Morningside.
Most of Eversole's early work was in poetry, but that changed when she signed up for a "Writing for Children" correspondence course eight years ago.
"I realized at that point that I'd always liked children's books--even better than most 'adult' books--and that my training in poetry gave me the skills I needed to produce the sort of sparse and musical language picture-story books require."
The course led directly to Eversole's first published children's book, The Magic House. The story was written for the class and the course's teacher was also an editor who was impressed enough with the tale to buy it.
The Magic House tells the story of a young girl who uses her imagination to recast the rooms of her house into adventurous and fanciful locales--her staircase becomes a waterfall, while the living room is transformed into a desert.
"A lot of my stories seem to share a basic theme, which has to do with something that could be called 'magic,' or more precisely, recognizing the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. Most people, kids included, seem to be cultivating the art of the blasé--cool, unimpressed, a deep-rooted belief in the dullness of everyday life. My stories are always going out in search of wonder," says Eversole.
"Flood Fish, for instance, is based on an actual natural phenomenon." The book chronicles an amazing occurrence in the Australian Outback--how after heavy rains, some dry riverbeds suddenly fill up with water and with fish which seemingly appear from out of nowhere.
Eversole, who lived in Australia, says, "The real-life Australians who witnessed the phenomenon in their own backyard never regarded it as being particularly unusual or interesting. They just took it for granted. A lot of good stories come from digging under the surface of things taken for granted."
As a university undergraduate, Eversole opted to study anthropology "because I thought it would give me an opportunity to travel and find interesting things to write about." As it turns out, anthropology did in fact afford Eversole those opportunities, but the discipline also managed to cast a spell of its own on the writer.
Once she completes her doctoral degree, Eversole says she would like to do some international development consulting work and perhaps some teaching. She will also keep writing. "I have plenty of ideas for projects, but I am the sort of person who starts a project, sees it off the ground and then leaves it in the hands of someone else so I can move on. One of my interests is working with street children, another is cross-cultural choral music."
Her next work, The Gift Stone, is about people living underground in an Australian mining town and will be published early next year.