Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's new weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.
Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit ourwhitehouse.org and thencbla.org.
This week we feature NCBLA Board Member Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and his series of books for older elementary school children, The Hamlet Chronicles. Mr. Maguire wrote the opening piece for Our White House whose title, "Looking In, Looking Out," is the subtitle of the anthology. He writes about the House itself, how it has changed over the years, and the many people who shape its history. Here's an excerpt:
However, as for the trees, gardens, the world around the house—just think of the tendency of vines to trail, of hedges to poke and seethe in new growth. Of lawns to go to seed, given half a chance. The world outside the windows of any house has a habit of breaking free. One might as well try to govern the shape and spacing of the clouds in the sky.We asked Mr. Maguire some questions about his piece:
NCBLA: I like that the piece begins as a scientific approach to the House itself, and later moves into the history surrounding it. What motivated you to structure the piece this way?
GM: To be frank, I have always loved making houses--from building blocks when I was five to renovations of my family's homes as a father. Since history is a kind of house of events in which we all live--and exploring history is like finding secret rooms in your house that are true, but rooms you never looked at closely before--I thought using the house as a concrete item and as a metaphor would be a usefully poetic way to approach the topic. Also, by taking a larger approach (the entire history of the house as a metaphor for our country) I could avoid writing about anything too specifically and then be accused, probably justifiably, for having failed to do accurate research and gotten my facts and interpretations wrong....
NCBLA: Did you learn anything about the White House that you did not know before writing "Looking In, Looking Out"?
GM: I did not know anything about the White House before I began except its address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and its color, and the general look of it on a postcard or the TV news, and the job you have to have in order to be able to count it as your private home. Beyond that, it was all a mystery to me, a deep dark secret. Well, except that it has a Rose Garden. That wasn't a secret. Also that it sometimes has an egg hunt. That wasn't a secret. But if anyone ever hid eggs in the rose garden and visiting children became horribly scratched by thorns, that is still unknown to me.
NCBLA: At one point you comment on the many physical changes that have been made to the White House over the years. President Obama has famously declared his intentions to install a basketball court, possibly replacing Richard Nixon's bowling alley. What would you add to the White House that's not already there?
GM: For President Obama to add a basketball court, well, that is mighty fine. If I happened to be President, which is not a job to which I aspire, I might add a private chapel, because the country would need a whole lot of prayers if they accidentally elected me President, and I would be the first one to start praying.
NCBLA: Who is your favorite president and why?
GM: I like President Lincoln but perhaps not for the same reasons that others do. I like him because he was (let's say this politely) somewhat unfortunate looking. He wasn't a glamour puss. He wasn't a media star. He didn't have the profile of a Roman god or a Greek triathlete or a Hollywood movie star. His very ordinariness of mien is in itself an example, and a reminder to us, that looks are superficial--on the surface--and what counts is what is behind the face, however handsome or ugly it might be. And what a beautiful, glamorous, gorgeous, attractive mind he had, and still has for us, if we take the time to read what he left us in writing.
For more information about this author, please read his NCBLA bio or visit his website.