The New Baby Brother
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the children’s book “The Phantom Tollbooth,” a book that helps explain some of life’s complications through a mix or fantasy and logic, conflict and triumph, character and description. Books like these stay with you for life. The characters are friends that you can depend on. Children’s books are one more way people can pass on knowledge from one generation to the next. Sylvia’wrote a children’s book that is now 60 years old and I’m writing about it here of in The New Yorker – but it’ll have to do!
Sylvia and Alex’s second child, David (my father) was born in 1947. Here we have a draft of a children’s book that Sylvia wrote accompanied by a letter to an editor. The letter is quite open and honest. I find it funny that while Sylvia is sending a manuscript (“MS.” in the letter) meant for children she states frankly, “[T]hese kids can just about knock the hell out of one.”
There is a second page of a letter that is dated 1949 and I’m not sure if this is from a previous draft of the book. Sylvia writes there, too, that she is “pooped… but really pooped.” (Another joke!) Though these letters seem so personal (and her reference to Hungarian film finding it’s place in cinema indicates that she may be writing to a friend of Alex’s), the words are still quite eloquent. Sylvia explains that, despite her exhaustion, the urge to write does not leave her. She writes, beautifully, “My mind is rusty. My fingers are rusty. My ideas are gone.” Still, she writes!
I like that this manuscript introduces a new relationship to the family. It is clear that Sylvia is writing for her children as well as about them. This book is about the relationship between siblings: their expectations of one another, their disappointments, their guardianship, their admiration and their love. (Thanks to the world of self publishing, I now “publish” this with no editor at all. Can you tell?!)