Pipers at the Gates of Dawn by Jonathan Cott, ’60?. Jonathan takes the evocative notion of children’s writers as pipers from Wind in the Willows and a poem by Blake. The beloved pipers who are the subject of the essays in this book are Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Astrid Lindgren, Chinua Achebe, and P. L. Travers. In the final essay, we meet Iona and Peter Opie, who dedicated their lives to collecting and archiving the lore of childhood. Jonathan visits these authors in their homes, so that ideas and theses emerge as much from their actual words as from Jonathan’s erudite research and reasoning. The book explores the depth, the magical call, and the stimulation of children’s literature, how it is not for children only, and that when we break the fluid bond between ourselves and our childhood selves, we risk (like the Mole in Wind in the Willows) to be no longer able to hear the distant piper. There are many revelations in Pipers: I had no idea Achebe wrote children’s books and I didn’t know Steig’s work at all. He was a New Yorker cartoonist who decided to try his hand at children’s books at the age of sixty. Years after Pipers came out, when Steig was in his late eighties, he wrote a little work called Shrek! For me, the high points of the book are the interviews, where the authors quickly dispense with small talk and provide insight, often startling, into the origins, creative process, and personal history that culminated in their life’s work.
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