Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Author Review: Robin McKinley

I asked my oldest daughter last week which author I should include in the next newsletter and she immediately replied with, “Robin McKinley.” We first learned about Robin McKinley from the Sonlight Curriculum catalog. Her book Beauty is a reader for the eighth year. We’ve both read it twice now and it’s a keeper. (“Keeper” = a book we don’t sell after eading it!)

Robin (Jennifer Carolyn) McKinley was born on November 16, 1952, in Warren, Ohio. Her father was in the U.S. Navy and Merchant Marines and her mother was a teacher.  McKinley was an only child and a self-described “military brat” who moved every two years with her family, from California to Japan to New York. Books were a refuge for her and she “decided early on that books were much more reliable friends than people.”

Soon she decided that she would be an author like J. R. R. Tolkien or H. Rider Haggard when she grew up. Except she would write stories about girls.

McKinley graduated summa cum laude from Bowdain College. Not long after that she saw an adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” on television. She was so disappointed in the story she decided to rewrite it herself. Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast was the result.Amazingly, this was her first book, written at age 24, and still her most popular.

McKinley has held a wide variety of other jobs while writing: transcriber, research assistant, bookstore clerk, teacher, counselor, editorial assistant, barn manager on a horse farm, copy-and-line-editor, and clerk.
In 1992 Robin McKinley married Peter Dickinson and moved to England. There she enjoys writing and gardening at her husband’s family home.

Other classic stories that have been retold by McKinley are Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Light Princess by George MacDonald, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, and “Sleeping Beauty.”

McKinley has won more awards than I can list here, including the Newbery Award for The Hero and the Crown and World Fantasy Award for Imaginary Lands. She also won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (given to the fantasy novel that best exemplifies “the spirit of the Inklings”) in 2004 for a book called Sunshine. I haven’t read this one. Sounds a little scary for me.
Publishers Weekly said McKinley “...takes the essentials of the traditional tale and embellishes them with vivid and quirky particulars.”

Most of these books do include elements of magic & romance in them, as you would expect from fairy tales. There is also a feminist twist to many of them as McKinley didn’t want her female protagonists to “wait limply to be rescued by the hero.” Therefore, she creates strong, self-sufficient heroines who “are intelligent, loyal, and courageous – eager and not afraid to cross the physical and psychological barriers that lie between them and the fultillment of their destinies.” Because of these themes we recommend her books for teenage to adult readers. And read Beauty first! (My dd adds that boys might prefer Blue Sword.)

“As a compulsive reader myself, I believe that you are what you read...My books are also about hope... Much of modern literature has given up hope and deals with antiheroes and despair.” –Robin McKinley 

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