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A learning and sharing community for
DC-area children’s literature professionals since 1945

SPEAKER SERIES

June 2024 Program

Wildoak

By Christina Harrington

Children’s Book Guild    June 20, 2024

 

Summary by Karen Leggett Abouraya

With bright enthusiasm, Christina Harrington spoke to a full house of Guild members about her ten-year journey to publish Wildoak, a middle grade novel that won the 2023 Schneider Family Book Award for its portrayal of the disability experience.  The novel takes place in 1960s Britain.  Maggie Stephens, the young protagonist, has a pronounced stutter, which seems to be unacceptable to both her father and many of her teachers.  She is sent to spend the summer with her physician grandfather, who lives near the Wildoak forest in Cornwall, England, and is also endowed with great sensitivity and patience – especially toward Maggie.  Maggie’s safe haven is that Wildoak forest where she befriends and nurses the snow leopard Rumpus. Rumpus had been purchased as a pet from Harrod’s department store - a bit of truth Christina was horrified to discover.

Christina’s writing process included the creation of vision boards for characters like Maggie, the snow leopard and even the forest. As Guild member and librarian Maria Salvadore noted, “The strength of Wildoak is that the snow leopard always remained an animal; he was not anthropomorphized.  All characters were plausible.”

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Guild author Mary Quattlebaum brought several of her writing students to the presentation after they had read Wildoak in class. “They especially admired the characterization of Maggie and Rumpus and the way Christina handled point of view, skillfully alternating third person perspective between the girl and snow leopard and deftly manipulating narrative distance,” said Mary.

 

Guild author Barbara Gowan, who took several of the photos on this page, recommended Wildoak as a good book “for your nature kid (or the kid in you)!”

 

“Writing a novel,” said Christina, “involves lots of cups of tea, LOTS of revision, lots of days when it feels a bit wobbly…and ultimately lots of perseverance.”

 

Christina’s research included conversations with speech pathologists about speech differences like stuttering. Christina insisted that the reader of the audio version of Wildoak be not only British but have some history with stuttering.  The result won the Audible Best Book of 2022 Listens for Kids. Wildoak itself won numerous awards and has been published in multiple languages with widely differing covers.

Why did she choose to write novels for children after earning a degree in English literature at Oxford?  “Children’s books point you toward hope, and we need that.”

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The Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC, is committed to the fight for racial justice and support for Black lives. Please click on the links above for information on organizations to support, and readings to help educate and inspire positive change. 

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