Shh! We’re talking about a quiet book, a guest post by Tricia Springstubb
In The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, nothing too awful happens. There are some scary parts, including ominous vultures and a possibly haunted turret, but they’re not too scary, and to soothe your nerves there’s also a baby goat, and a thoughtful if troubled best friend. And while I want readers to fly through the pages, anxious to find out what happens next, I also hope they’ll feel as if someone they trust is sitting close, whispering, It’s going to be okay.
I myself am a scaredy-cat. No horror movies, no roller coasters, no casseroles where I can’t identify every ingredient, thank you very much. When I was growing up, in the innocent fifties and early sixties, pretty much every book I read had a guaranteed happy ending. There were no such categories as tween or young adult. Books that dealt with darker themes were reserved for adults, and for years I lived on a diet of Pippi Longstocking, Mary Poppins, and Nancy Drew. When Beth died in Little Women, it came as a tremendous shock.
Yet little by little, I began to learn that reading was not just for escaping life–it could be for understanding life. One of the first books to help me see that was “A Girl of the Limberlost”, by Gene Stratton-Porter. Elnora has a mother who’s often cold and distant. Her own heart has been broken, and she visits her unhappiness on Elnora. I remember reading this book with a painful sense of wonder. I’d never seen a mother like mine in a book before. When her mother shows Elnora that she does, after all, love her deeply, my own heart swelled so that I thought it might actually be growing. And probably it was–that’s what seeing ourselves in a book, realizing we are not alone, does to us. Our hearts and minds expand. Being understood, we, in turn, can better understand others.
Thank goodness for the many brave, unflinching books young readers have today. I’m so so awed and moved, by novels like Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s Fighting Words, Leslie Connor’s The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle, and Kacen Callender’s King and the Dragonflies. Books like these, which guide young readers through life’s darkest places and out into the light, were not around when I was growing up.
Yet much as I admire them, I’ll never write that kind of book. I think that, as writers, we discover what we can do, then do that thing as best we can. For me, that seems to be quiet books like The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, whose hero is timid, steadfast Loah Londonderry. While Loah is a homebody, her mother is an ornithologist who often goes off on distant expeditions. When Dr. Londonderry finds evidence that an Arctic bird believed to be extinct may still exist, she embarks on a perilous solo quest to save it. Loah is left alone with her elderly caretakers. When they fall ill, she finds herself truly alone, except for a troubled friend who wants help running away from home, and those ominous vultures.
Does her mother love her work more than she loves Loah? Can Loah be a friend to someone so different from her? Where does a homebody find the courage to do brave, undreamed of things?
Loah embarks on an expedition too. She doesn’t traverse the globe, like her mother or a migrating Arctic tern. Instead, like a Townsend solitaire, she sticks close to home. Yet for me, her expedition, a journey of the heart, is every bit as big and important.
A recurring theme of middle grade and young adult literature is becoming independent –learning to fly–while also craving security and safety–a nest. It’s a theme explored in countless ways, and in The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, I do it through the lens of the natural world. All living creatures depend on one another in ways large and small, a lesson Dr. Londonderry’s work has taught Loah. As she comes to feel her own quiet strength, she reaches out to help others, who in turn support her, setting up a human chain of inter-connectedness that echoes Nature’s own web.
The book’s title comes from naturalist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who wrote, “I think that, if required on pain of death to instantly name the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on a bird’s egg.” A bird’s egg, with its sturdy yet porous shell, is perfectly engineered to protect the growing chick until the day that chick finds the egg too small and confining and begins pecking its way out. An egg is made to nurture and then to give way, and for me this is the perfect metaphor for childhood and growing up. Hatching isn’t easy for Loah, just as for so many kids. I hope readers see themselves in her struggles to find a place in the world. I hope they’ll be reassured that, even when they feel most alone, light and love are never far away.
We turn to books for different things. Some days we want to laugh, some days to weep, some days to shiver in horror and some days to be comforted. Linda Urban, Erin Entrada Kelly, Cynthia Lord, Renee Watson and Sarah Pennypacker are some of my favorite writers whose books can speak monumental truths in small-ish voices. I’m tucking The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe onto their shelf.
Shh. These are quiet books. They have lots to share, though. Lean close and listen.
Meet the author
Tricia is the author of many picture books, chapter books, and novels. The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection and has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Before becoming a full-time writer (hooray!), Tricia worked as a library associate in the children’s room of a public library. Librarians have always been her people! She lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
About The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe
For fans of Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly and The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss, a novel about one unadventurous girl who discovers she is anything but.
Eleven-year-old Loah Londonderry is definitely a homebody. While her mother, a noted ornithologist, works to save the endangered birds of the shrinking Arctic tundra, Loah anxiously counts the days till her return home. But then, to Loah’s surprise and dismay, Dr. Londonderry decides to set off on a perilous solo quest to find the Loah bird, long believed extinct. Does her mother care more deeply about Loah the bird than Loah her daughter?
Things get worse yet when Loah’s elderly caretakers fall ill and she finds herself all alone except for her friend Ellis. Ellis has big problems of her own, but she believes in Loah. She’s certain Loah has strengths that are hidden yet wonderful, like the golden feather tucked away on her namesake bird’s wing. When Dr. Londonderry’s expedition goes terribly wrong, Loah needs to discover for herself whether she has the courage and heart to find help for her mother, lost at the top of the world.
Beautifully written, The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe is about expeditions big and small, about creatures who defy gravity and those of us who are bound by it.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 06/01/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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