Cynthia Rylant (born 6 June 1954) is an American author and librarian. She has written more than 100 children's books, including works of fiction (picture books, short stories and novels), nonfiction, and poetry. Several of her books have won awards, including her novel Missing May, which won the 1993 Newbery Medal, and A Fine White Dust which was a 1987 Newbery Honor book. Two of her books are Caldecott Honor Books.
Many of Rylant's books are about her childhood in Appalachia, her pets, the joys and hardships of family life, and the feelings of loners. Many of her books are written in series.
Rylant was born in Hopewell, West Virginia, the daughter of a U.S. Army veteran, John Tune Smith, and Leatrel Smith née Rylant. Rylant uses her mother's maiden name as her pen name. She spent her first four years in Illinois. Her parents separated when she was four years old, and she was sent to live with her mother's parents in Cool Ridge, West Virginia, while her mother attended nursing school and was able to visit her only a few times a year. Growing up in the Appalachian region of the U.S. during the 1960s, Rylant lived in a very depressed economic environment. Her grandparents, extended family and kind local townspeople provided a loving, nurturing, safe environment, while the little girl "waited ... until someone could return for me", but they were very poor and lived a rustic life, with no electricity, running water or automobile. As a result, she never saw children's books as a child, reading mainly comic books and enjoying the outdoors.
Four years later, she moved back with her mother, who had relocated to nearby Beaver, West Virginia.There had been no libraries or bookstores in Cool Ridge, and there were none in Beaver. Rylant never saw her father again, and he died when she was thirteen years old. She later wrote, "I did not have a chance to know him or to say goodbye to him, and that is all the loss I needed to become a writer." When she was nine years old, Rylant fell in love with Paul McCartney and The Beatles. However, her West Virginia childhood was the major influence on her works, and many of them deal with life in the Appalachian region. As a teenager, Rylant became enchanted with Robert Kennedy, whom she met during his presidential campaign. She was deeply affected by his assassination. Also important to her emotional development was her relationship with a boy from school.
Rylant earned a B.A. degree from Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston) in 1975 and a M.A. degree from Marshall University in 1976, discovering and studying English literature and greatly enjoying her years in school. In 1977, she married Kevin Dolin. Unable to find a job in her field after completing college, she first worked as a waitress and later as a librarian at the Cabell County Public Library in Huntington, West Virginia, where she finally became acquainted with children's books. She taught English part-time at Marshall University in 1979 and wrote her first book, When I Was Young in the Mountains, based on her experiences as a young child living in the country with her grandparents. The picture book, which Rylant later said took her an hour to complete, earned an American Book Award in 1982 and was a Caldecott Honor Book. Her marriage with Dolin ended in 1980, and she earned a Masters degree in Library Science from Kent State University in 1981. She lived in Kent, Ohio, for many years, working as a librarian at the Cincinnati Public Library. She later moved to Akron, Ohio, and worked at the Akron Public Library while teaching English part-time at the University of Akron. During the early 1980s, she was married briefly to a professor at the University of Akron.
Career and later years
Rylant followed her inaugural effort with six more picture books based on her childhood experiences. Her 1983 book, Miss Maggie, deals with themes of aging. Her first poetry collection, Waiting to Waltz: A Childhood (1984), was also autobiographical, based on both happy and sad events or on people she knew, drawing universal emotions from the incisive portraits. Rylant became interested in writing poetry when she read some poetry in college by David Huddle. She said of his Paper Boy, that the strong characters were "People whose lives are hard but are proud of who and what they are." In 1985, Rylant decided to write full-time. Her first novel, A Blue-eyed Daisy (1985), describes a year in the life of a young girl, including such events as her first kiss and the funeral of a classmate, and her relationship with her father, who, like Rylant's real-life grandfather, is injured in an accident and loses his job. Her 1986 book, The Relatives Came, describes how she slept on the floor when company visited. The same year, she published one of her most well-received books, A Fine White Dust. This young adult novel portrays a boy who becomes a disciple to a charismatic preacher, leaving his parents and friends. When the preacher runs off with a young woman, the boy, despite his feelings of betrayal, strengthens his faith in God and discovers a more realistic view of human nature. The book was named a Newbery Honor book.
In 1987, Rylant published the first of her popular Henry and Mudge series books, Henry and Mudge: The First Book of Their Adventures. In this book for beginning readers, Henry, an only child, forms a deep attachment with a puppy who grows to be an enormous drooling dog, Mudge. When Mudge is lost, Henry is despondent, and when he is recovered, the two are overjoyed. Since then, she has published dozens more Henry and Mudge books, as well as picture books, books for older readers, including young adult novels and story collections, and collections of poetry. Her critically praised 2004 picture book, Long Night Moon, describes the different moons that Native American cultures use to mark the changing seasons. 1995's The Van Gogh Cafe is one of the author's favorites. Her books often deal with the joys and hardships of family life, with animals and the outdoors, especially in the Appalachian region, and her characters are often loners or people facing hardships. Her 1991 non-fiction picture book for older readers, Appalachia; The Voices of Sleeping Birds, is a vivid picture of life in Appalachia and the warmth of its people.
Rylant's 1992 young adult novel, Missing May, is a touching story about a girl who lives with relatives after the death of her mother and who must comfort her uncle after the death of his beloved wife. Beginning in the early 1990s, Rylant has published several series designed for younger readers, including the Lighthouse Family, High-rise Private Eyes, and Everyday Books series, the last of which is a series for very young children that she illustrated herself. She also illustrated several of her other books, including the playful Dog Heaven (1995), about an ideal dog afterlife. Other poetry collections have been God Went to Beauty School (2003) and Boris (2005). In 1993, Rylant relocated to Eugene, Oregon, with her son Nathaniel from her first marriage. In 2003, she moved to Portland, Oregon.
Rylant has received a number of awards and honors for her work. A Fine White Dust (1987) won a Newbery Honor, and Missing May (1993) won a Newbery Medal.When I Was Young in the Mountains (1982) and The Relatives Came (1985) received Caldecott Honors.The Relatives Came and Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds (1991) are each Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Books, as is Missing May, which deals with the loss of a loved one. A Kindness (1988), Soda Jerk (1990), and A Couple of Kooks and Other Stories about Love (1990) have each been named a "Best Book of the Year for Young Adults" by the American Library Association.
Children's book series
Annie and Snowball
Cobble Street Cousins
Henry and Mudge
Main article: Henry and Mudge
The High Rise Private Eyes
Mr. Putter and Tabby
- ^Smucker, Anna Egan. "Cynthia Rylant", West Virgin June 2013
- ^ abcdefg"Cynthia Rylant (1954-) Biography", Jrank, 2005, accessed 18 July 2013
- ^ abcdef"Cynthia Rylant"Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library at West Virginia Wesleyan College, accessed 11 February 2013
- ^ abAntonucci, Ron. "A Talk with 1993 Newbery Medallist Cynthia Rylant", School Library Journal, May 1993, p. 26
- ^ abcRylant (1994), pp. 193–199
- ^Rylant (1993), chapter 2
- ^ abcde"Cynthia Rylant"Archived 30 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine., Greater Dayton Public Television, 2004, accessed 11 February 2013
- ^ abcdefgh"Cynthia Rylant". google.com. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
- ^"Book Corner", South Coast Today, The Standard-Times, 17 August 2002, p. C7, accessed 18 July 2013
- ^ ab"Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922–Present". American Library Association.
- ^"Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938–Present". American Library Association.
References and further reading
- Cooper, Irene. "The Booklist Interview: Cynthia Rylant", Booklist, 1 June 1993, p. 1840
- "Cynthia Rylant: A Quiet Craft", Publishers' Weekly, 21 July 1997, p. 178
- "Cynthia Rylant", Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 45, Gale Group, 2002
- McGinty, Alice B. Cynthia Rylant, The Rosen Publishing Group (2004) ISBN 082394526X
- Meet the Author: "Cynthia Rylant", Instructor, April 1994, p. 60
- Rylant, Cynthia. Best Wishes, Katonah, NY: Richard C. Owen, 1992
- Rylant, Cynthia. But I'll Be Back Again: An Album, New York, NY: Scholastic, 1989 ISBN 053108406X
- Rylant, Cynthia. Something about the Author autobiography series, Vol. 76, Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1994
- Silvey, Anita, ed. Children's Books and Their Creators, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1995
- Silvey, Anita. "An Interview with Cynthia Rylant", Horn Book Magazine, Nov–Dec 1987, p. 694
- Ward, Diane. "Cynthia Rylant". Horn Book Magazine. July 1993. p. 420
ARUN RATH, HOST:
If you have read books to kids anytime over the past, say, 30 years, you've probably read Cynthia Rylant. She's been incredibly prolific and writes for all age groups. In fact, if you're a little bit younger, you may have learned to read with her "Early Readers" series, or cut your long-form teeth on her young adult novels.
Many of Rylant's picture books revolve around children relying on their families for love and support. But Rylant's own childhood was complicated. Her father was an alcoholic. And like many alcoholics, he also had a wonderful side.
CYNTHIA RYLANT: In the brief time that I was with him as a child, he would set me on his knee, and he would get a couple of stuffed animals and act out a story, a play with them. And I remember, you know, the animals shouting at each other and hitting each other, and laughing and hugging and crying. And my father was just a great entertainer. And that was the gift that he gave to me, this delight in storytelling.
RATH: But Rylant's father didn't stick around.
RYLANT: When I was 4, he pretty much disappeared from my life, and he never came back. And then when I was 12, he died. And I got word of his death by telephone. And so, you know, you try - you struggle to believe that you're worth something, after a parent abandons you.
RATH: When her father left them, Rylant's mother was overwhelmed. She brought 4-year-old Cynthia to live with her grandparents and other cousins in the tiny coal mining town of Cool Ridge, W.Va.
RYLANT: There were seven of us in a little house - a tiny house, out in the country. We didn't have any indoor plumbing. It was very isolated. No libraries, of course. And it was a really wonderful experience. And so in my books, you might notice that there's a theme of nurturing among all the characters. They're all taking care of each other. They're being steady and reliable and loving.
RATH: You talked about your family situation. I think having, you know, a family that ends up being spread out across the country is a thing a lot of people can relate to. And I'm thinking about your book "When the Relatives Came" - which won a Caldecott - and that kind of conveys that sense.
RYLANT: Yeah. The relatives who lived in Virginia winding their way, you know, in their old car over those mountains and hills and hollers to get to our little house in Cool Ridge. And it was such a long trip, and so they would - once they got there, they really stayed.
RYLANT: We all just all squeezed into all the beds. And I remember my Uncle Leo used to sleep in the backseat of his car. And I can't remember - not one lonely day when I was living there.
RATH: Talking about your childhood, and it certainly wasn't too opulent; I'm wondering what kind of books you had access to growing up.
RYLANT: Oh, well, I grew up on comic books, the other kids and I. And this was in Beaver, W.Va. You know, we collect pop - old pop bottles, so we'd take them to the store and get - build up our pennies. And then we'd go to the drugstore and buy comic books. And I was crazy about them.
RATH: Now, I'm a boy, so I'm thinking, you know, "Batman" and "Superman" and "Spider-Man." Is that what you were reading?
RYLANT: I was reading "Archie," "Baby Huey" and "Little Lulu," but mostly "Archie."
RATH: You know, I'm kind of amazed at how you write books for a variety of distinct age groups. You know, there are books that I've read to my kids from birth; there are the early reader books for kids starting to read on their own, and the longer chapter books. I'm just curious how you work. Do you just put on a different hat for the different ages, or how do you get into the mindset?
RYLANT: I really can't explain it. When I first started writing, you know, I tried picture books. And, you know, I soon discovered that when I write, it's a bit of a flash. It's all of a sudden, and kind of inspiration. And that's true for all of the picture books. The poetry books, I'll write a book of poetry in a day, and I'll be done with it. The longer books - which there are few of because I don't like to write longer books - have usually come about because an editor has begged me for something that's more than five pages long.
RATH: You've been writing more poetry, or maybe just publishing more poetry in recent years, and it feels like it's more aimed towards adults. Your new book is called "God Got a Dog." What gave you the idea for doing books in this kind of vein?
RYLANT: Well, I think you have to be poet to write a good children's book, especially a picture book. And so I've been writing picture books for years and years and years. And occasionally, I've gotten this sudden inspiration - out of the blue - to write a bunch of poems around a theme, and one poem came to me. "God Went to Beauty School" was the title of that poem. Just came out of the blue, and I sat down and I wrote it.
And then after I finished writing it, I got an idea for another God poem, and so I wrote that one. And so it started in the morning, and then by the end of the day, I was finished writing the book.
RATH: It sounds like the books just come, you know, as inspiration hits you - pretty regularly, though.
RYLANT: No. I actually go long periods between books. Sometimes, I'll just find any way at all in the world to avoid writing a book.
RYLANT: I think it's because I think every single word is so important. I find it daunting to write, and so I couldn't do it every day.
RATH: I think a lot of people would be surprised, and maybe comforted, by the fact that even you, after all these years, have that kind of anxiety about the blank page.
RYLANT: Well, I think the gift of language, it's truly a gift. I don't think it's anything that can be crafted. I don't think you can learn it, like auto mechanics. It's - it isn't linear or rational. So I try to remember that. I try to be humble about the fact that I really didn't do anything to have this ability to make beautiful language. It was bestowed on me.
RATH: Cynthia Rylant has won numerous awards for her children's books. Cynthia, thank you so much.
RYLANT: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
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