by Roderick Townley
I’m pretty sure I found this book at a thrift store. It’s one of those that, despite being an unknown quantity, called to me with such an appealing cover and title that I had to take it home. (I mean, look at that cover illustration! Doesn’t it just beg to be wondered at discovered?)
So, it found its way onto my shelf and eventually my reading stack.
The Great Good Thing follows the adventures of Sylvie, a character who lives in an old, forgotten children’s book. After years of languishing in someone’s library, the book is picked up by a “Reader” who learns to love the story so much that the characters begin to turn up in her dreams. Eventually, Sylvie and some of her fellow characters explore other areas of the Reader’s mind, and finally discover the world outside.
As Sylvie meets some of the other personages who people the Reader’s dreams, especially the mysterious “girl with the dark blue eyes”, she learns that a danger lurks for them all: the threat of being forgotten. So, seeking to keep the people she loves alive in the Reader’s mind, Sylvie goes on an adventure that ultimately reveals a secret about her original book and her creator, the Author.
This is the most creative and emotional story I have read in quite some time. The author flirts with the edges of comprehension ~ especially for a children’s book ~ as fictional characters flit between the flat pages of a book, the abstractions inside a child’s mind, and the solid matter of the real world. But Roderick Townley makes it work, because we love Sylvie and want to follow her adventures. And we know what he’s getting at.
In the same week that I read this book, I watched the movie Inside Out for the first time. Both stories share a main theme, and both made me bawl at the critical moment when that theme comes to life.
That theme is the idea that when a memory is forgotten, something real and tangible is lost forever.
I’m a journaler, a scrapbooker, and a photo album peruser. I’ve spent hours poring over my grandmothers’ genealogy and family story research. I have always seen memories as precious things to be scooped up, kept alive, and treasured forever. The idea of losing any memory makes me sad.
But, as this story makes clear, we grow up, things change, and life goes on. Our minds simply can’t hold onto everything. Yet our memories shape us, and many of them are worth preserving. And there are some that get the grace of being shaped by us into something even more beautiful.
Read this book. Read it to your kids (or your nieces, nephews, students, friends’ kids…). You’ll laugh and think and wonder. And I dare you not to cry!
So, more to come…