All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los Angeles‘ Make March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.
To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.
Today’s piece is from writer Brian Cameron:
It was Christmas, and I was 11 years old. As an avid reader, books were always among the presents I received during the holidays, and this occasion was no different. After unwrapping a new paperback, I absorbed its cover: A title and blurb in hefty gothic font, what appeared to be a pirate ship, and a fearsome mouse with a broken sword.
This was Mossflower by Brian Jacques, and it sounded very intriguing. But there was a problem. A big problem.
The book was huge – 376 PAGES – much too large for a fifth-grader like me to read. This looked like an “adult” book. The Hardy Boys, The Dark is Rising Sequence, The Boxcar Children…all enjoyable series with much more reasonable page counts. Too intimidated by the sheer girth of this tome, I set it aside.
Six months later, I changed my mind—and my life—by deciding to open Mossflower. Inside, I found a fantasy world that instantly captured me: Good, weapon-wielding rodents (mice, badgers, otters, squirrels) in a medieval land, battling evil oppressors (rats, stoats, foxes, weasels) who wished to disrupt their peaceful lives. I couldn’t put it down.
Martin the Warrior was an imprisoned mouse in a foreign locale. His cellmate was Gonff, a cheeky and clever mouse thief. After other woodland creatures break them out, the pair pursue freedom and an end to the cruel reign of Queen Tsarmina, a crazed wildcat who had taken over their forest home.
After rapidly completing the book, I flipped back to the opening pages. Brian Jacques, an Englishman from Liverpool, had apparently written three other related books, and together these were all a part of the “Redwall” series.
Redwall is the (non-religious) Abbey the woodlanders later decide to construct as a safe commune, as well as the title of the very first book. Awesome! I located these other stories and soon devoured them as well.
This was still the early days of the internet, and—with permission—a young fan had created an official website for Jacques. Upon discovering it, I was struck with yet another revelation: Brian Jacques was still writing books! What? Authors were supposed to be people who had written something, not people who were actively continuing to write! And there was an address where you could send him a letter!
So I wrote Jacques a letter. And he wrote me back – he wrote back hundreds of fans, and personally signed each missive.
Before his death in 2011, Brian Jacques wrote 22 Redwall series books. He also somehow found time to write an entirely separate pirate myth-inspired trilogy, short stories, and assist with a PBS animated series adaptation of Redwall. I still cross my fingers that a movie might happen someday.
(And as this is a comics website, I would be remiss not to mention that Redwall was also adapted into a graphic novel by Stuart Moore and Bret Blevins.)
As I grew into adulthood, the popular, gripping stories proved to be a welcome escape from the day-to-day grind.
He frequently toured the US and UK—some might say Jacques was even more popular in the US—and the larger-than-life man enthralled young audiences with his sense of humor and storytelling. His author’s trick was finding a member of the crowd with a copy of Redwall, asking the child to open the book to page one, and then proceeding to recite the text from memory while the girl or boy followed along in amazement.
I was able to meet Jacques on two separate occasions and personally thank him for his contributions to literature: Truly classic, sword-clanging tales of good vs. evil, where the good guy wins, and the bad guy loses.
In an interview with the New York Times, Jacques once said, “My values are based on courage, which you see time and time again in my books … A warrior can be any age. A warrior is a person people look up to.”
Indeed, and it is these values that will keep the stories and legends of Redwall Abbey around for decades to come, delighting new readers, young and old.
To this day, Mossflower has a place of pride on my shelf, next to a personal letter from Brian Jacques.