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Powell's Q&A | September 3, 2014

Emily St. John Mandel: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Emily St. John Mandel



Describe your latest book. My new novel is called Station Eleven. It's about a traveling Shakespearean theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North... Continue »
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    Station Eleven

    Emily St. John Mandel 9780385353304

Original Essays | September 4, 2014

Edward E. Baptist: IMG The Two Bodies of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism



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Original Essays

Less Is More, Sometimes

by Trinka Hakes Noble
 
  1. The Orange Shoes
    $16.95 New Hardcover add to wishlist

    The Orange Shoes

    Trinka Hakes Noble
    "This warm, heartfelt story is best suited for sharing aloud with children and their parents." School Library Journal
  2. The Scarlet Stockings Spy
    $16.95 New Hardcover add to wishlist

    The Scarlet Stockings Spy

    Trinka Hakes Noble
    "The author of the popular Jimmy Boa series offers a gripping story about the American Revolution and a young spy in Philadelphia." Buffalo News
  3. Last Brother (Tales of Young Americans)
    $17.95 New Hardcover add to wishlist
    "This book puts a human face on one of our country's bloodiest confrontations and will spark discussion about the Civil War and about how people can be friends even if they have different beliefs." School Library Journal
We've all heard the expression that "less is more," or can be. But to truly understand this abstract concept requires life experience. That's why it is difficult for young children to understand less is more. They just haven't lived long enough.

Children learn simple math at an early age. One apple plus two apples equals three apples. Or, three apples take away two apples equals one apple. Addition and subtraction are black and white concepts about more and less. But if you told children that one apple could be more than two apples or three apples, they'd scratch their heads in disbelief. This is where children's literature comes in. If a character in a story can believably illustrate the concept of less is more, then it becomes believable and understandable to the young reader, but only if they make an honest connection with the character. In other words, young readers can gain life experience through a character's story, even when they have not experienced something similar in real life.

Because my parents lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s, they ran a frugal household, especially with seven children to feed and clothe. Nothing was wasted. At the dinner table, I remember we kids were often told to eat it, whatever was served, and call it good. We did, and it always was. So, at an early age, having less seemed normal to us. My oldest sister, at age twelve, went a step further and organized The Depression Club, of which we younger kids were charter members. All you needed to join was an empty shoe box. Each week, you were supposed to find at least one thing you could save, and put it in your box. Then, when the next Great Depression came along, we'd be all set. Our boxes were hidden in a child-sized attic crawl space under the slanted roofline of our little saltbox house. No one could go there but us, so our depression boxes were safe. As the littlest sister in the "girls' room," I slept under that slanted roof (because I wouldn't clunk my head when I popped up in bed). I remember feeling so secure before I fell asleep knowing that just on the other side of that short wall was my depression box.

The Depression Club met once a week. My sister would call the meeting to order, with great pomp and ceremony, impressing us with the seriousness of our club's purpose. Then, my next sister, age ten, who was the secretary, would read the minutes. Being a Depression Club, we didn't need a treasurer. Then, each kid would open their box and show what item they had saved that week. It was supposed to be something important, something you really needed to make it through hard times.

I don't remember what my two older sisters had in their boxes, but I remember mine perfectly. First, I saved slivers of bar soap. I remember when I had saved several slivers, I blended them together to make a mini bar of soap. It formed a pretty green and white variegated swirl that smelled wonderful. I also saved a broken plastic pocket comb that was half its original size. Now, no matter what, my hair would always be tidy and my face clean and shiny, ready for school, because school was very important. Without school, I would never get ahead. For me, less had just become more.

As a kid, I was an artist. I loved to draw, so I also saved stubby pencils, so short they no longer fit in the crank wall-mounted pencil sharpener by our back door. I lovingly sharpened my little half-inch pencils with my older brother's jackknife, and honed the point with a scrap of sandpaper. I also saved old envelopes which I opened flat, trimmed and stitched together to make a little sketch book. There's a lot of good clean paper inside of old envelopes, just waiting for a drawing. Now, come what may, I had pencil and paper. I could always draw. But what I began to notice when I drew was a revelation. It felt like my fingers were actually drawing. I could feel my hand in the drawing and the drawing in my hand. The connection between my fingers and hand, my young artist's eye and my drawing was closer because my pencil was so short. This gave my drawings a wholeness and genuine completeness that I keenly observed and felt deeply. In other words, less had just become more once again.

My little five-year-old brother probably didn't understand that less could be more because he always had one stick of Black Jack gum in his box, and one copper penny as a backup, just in case the temptation was too great and he just couldn't wait for the next Great Depression. I'm not sure, at age seven, that I fully understood this nebulous concept either, but I do know that something had resonated deeply within me as I drew with my stubby pencils and added items to my depression box, something valuable and lasting, something I never forgot.

I don't think I could have written The Orange Shoes or created the character of Adella Porter, a young artist who learns firsthand that less can be more, if I hadn't experienced our childhood Depression Club and my stubby pencils and envelope sketch book. In The Orange Shoes, Delly doesn't have shoes and must walk a mile to school in her bare feet. But Delly doesn't mind because she loves the feel of the dirt road under her feet; the sandy places and the dried mud places and the smooth places after the road scraper's gone through. Less had become more. But when Delly does get a new pair of beautiful orange shoes, and wears them to school, just to show the girls at recess, her more is quickly and cruelly reduced to less as the girls kick, scrape and scuff her new shoes until they are ruined. (This playground bullying actually happened to me!) But Delly Porter is a talented young artist, who takes her ruined shoes and turns them into much more than anyone could imagine.

So, for me, writing The Orange Shoes became a very personal expression of less is more. I hope you enjoy reading and sharing The Orange Shoes with your family, friends and students, and by doing so, you will continue to turn less into more, and more, and more.

÷ ÷ ÷

Trinka Hakes Noble is the author of The Orange Shoes, The Scarlet Stockings Spy, and The Last Brother. A member of the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature, she was awarded Outstanding Woman 2002 in Arts and Letters in the state of New Jersey for her lifetime work in children's books. The Nobles live in a circa 1780 house in the historic Jockey Hollow area of Bernardsville, New Jersey. spacer

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