This sample Cynthia Rylant Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Cynthia Rylant is an award-winning author of children’s and young adult books whose work includes picture books, poetry, short stories, and novels. With a writing style that has been described as unadorned, clear, and lyrical, Rylant presents young people’s experiences with sensitivity and perceptiveness.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Rural Life
Cynthia Rylant was born on June 6, 1954, in the rural town of Hopewell, Virginia. Her parents had a stormy marriage and separated when Rylant was just four years old and she moved with her mother to West Virginia, where she was cared for by her grandparents while her mother was earning a nursing degree. Her rustic upbringing was characterized by a great deal of hardship: in the small town where she lived, many houses had neither electricity nor running water. The Appalachian region has been one of the most impoverished regions throughout United States history, despite the abundance of natural resources in the area. In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson called attention to poverty in that area, and the result was the 1964 Appalachian Regional Development Act, which ushered in improvements in education and health care. Nonetheless, Rylant grew up in areas that were characterized by poverty. The lack of amenities did not bother young Rylant; she felt secure, surrounded by equally poor, yet friendly, church-going neighbors. When the author was eight years old, she and her mother moved to the town of Beaver, West Virginia. Raised in a town without a library, Rylant was exposed to a very limited range of literature in her youth. As a result, she cultivated a rich imagination that enabled her to become a highly successful author. In her autobiography, But I’ll Be Back Again: An Album, Rylant reflected on how her hardscrabble childhood cultivated her powerful imagination, calling the town of Beaver ”without a doubt a small, sparkling universe that gave me a lifetime’s worth of material for my writing.”
The uncommon hardships that Rylant faced in her youth contributed to her ability to write strong and sympathetic young characters. In her autobiography, Rylant wrote,
They say that to be a writer you must first have an unhappy childhood. I don’t know if unhappiness is necessary, but I think maybe some children who have suffered a loss too great for words grow up into writers who are always trying to find those words, trying to find a meaning for the way they have lived.
Rylant did, indeed, face a great deal of unhappiness. Her father wrote occasionally when Ryant and her mother first moved, but the letters eventually stopped. Rylant was afraid to ask questions about her father because none of her relatives spoke about him. After years of silence, he finally contacted her. Rylant dreamed of a reunion with him, but before it could take place, her father, a Korean War veteran who suffered from both hepatitis and alcoholism, succumbed to those diseases. He died when she was thirteen. In her autobiography, Rylant reflected on that loss and observed, ”That is all the loss I needed to become a writer.”
After she graduated from high school, Rylant pursued her bachelor of arts degree at the University of Charleston (formerly the Morris Harvey College). In her first English class at college, Rylant discovered a part of herself that she had not recognized before, but she was intimidated by the prospect of trying to write like great classical writers. She graduated in 1975, and continued her English studies, earning her M.A. in English from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, in 1976. Still unsure of her career path, Rylant took a job in the children’s room of a public library in Huntington, West Virginia. There, she was exposed to children’s literature, and decided that she was going to become a children’s author. As a single parent, she also began studying library science at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. She graduated with a master of library science degree in 1982, the same year that she published her first book.
A Strong Voice for Children
Rylant’s first book was When I Was Young in the Mountains (1982), a picture book about life in West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains. Critics praised the first effort for its single, yet evocative text. Diane Goode’s illustrations for When I Was Young in the Mountains won a Caldecott book citation. In 1984, Rylant published an autobiographical collection of poetry about coming-of-age, Waiting to Waltz …A Childhood. The collection weaves in events and symbols from the turbulent decade of the 1960s to vividly re-recreate the era and provide a full portrait of her adolescence. Rylant followed that with her first novel, published in 1985, A Blue-Eyed Daisy. Set in Appalachia, the novel work is told by eleven-year-old Ellie Farley, the youngest of five daughters, who contends with her apprehensions and conflicting emotions about growing up. For example, she overcomes her fear of contracting epilepsy after witnessing a classmate’s seizure; copes with her unemployed, alcoholic father’s imperfections and the possibility of his death after an accident; and battles the nervous anticipation of a party. With A Blue-Eyed Daisy, Rylant began to make a name for herself as an uncommonly talented children’s author.
Rylant’s 1986 novel, A Fine White Dust, was named a Newbery Honor Book. In this work, a deeply religious seventh-grader named Pete believes he has found a human incarnation of God in a roving preacher named Carson. While attending a revival meeting, Pete is mesmerized by Carson’s charismatic presence and, after being ”saved,” agrees to become his disciple. Despite his hesitance to leave his family and friends, Pete believes that such a sacrifice is needed to fully embrace the holy life. Pete’s mission is never fulfilled, however, because the preacher unexpectedly runs off with a young woman. Although he initially feels betrayed, Pete develops a more mature understanding of love and faith.
Rylant was also honored with a Newbery award for her 1992 novel Missing May. Summer, the novel’s protagonist, is a six-year-old orphan who is passed from family to family until her elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ob in West Virginia decide to adopt her. Summer lives happily with Ob and May for six years until May suddenly dies. Summer and Ob have difficulty adjusting to life without May, and Ob becomes convinced that he feels the spirit of May around him and decides to contact her through a spiritualist. They journey to find a medium who will connect them to May’s spirit, but they are disappointed. During the return trip, Ob transforms and decides that being alive—even without May—is important. When they arrive home, Summer is finally able to grieve for May with Ob’s support. Critics and readers found Missing May to be a rewarding and comforting experience.
In addition to her novels, Rylant has also been a prolific writer of picture books, including a notable series about the misadventures of a boy named Henry and his dog, Mudge, that began with the 1987 story Henry and Mudge. Her other early-reader series include stories about an old man who adopts a cat named Tabby, which began with Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea in 1994; her popular Poppleton Pig series, which began in 1997 with Poppleton; her series about ”High-Rise Private Eyes” Bunny Brown and Raccoon Jones, animals who solve mysteries, which began in 2000 with The Case of the Missing Monkey; and her series about a guinea pig, which began with Little Whistle (2000).
Since the publication of Missing May, Rylant has continued to publish award-winning literature for children and young adults, earning a loyal readership and ongoing positive critical response.
Works in Literary Context
Children’s Realistic Fiction
Instead of creating fantasy worlds or characters, Rylant has focused the majority of her children’s novels and stories (with the exception of her easy reader series) in the genre of literary realism. With unadorned and clear language, Rylant creates portraits of contemporary childhood, dramatizing ordinary or everyday events to which young readers can easily relate. For instance, The Relatives Came (1985) is the story about a visit from an extended family living in another state that reflects the complex emotions of anticipation and sadness, and in Missing May (1992), Rylant explores the grieving process as a necessary part of growing up in her story about a girl who loses her beloved aunt. By focusing on realistic stories, Rylant is able to create rich and poignant characterizations that are accessible to young readers.
Rylant has also produced several volumes of children’s poetry. While her themes and settings are very realistic in nature, Rylant’s poetry gives a unique voice to her series for children. In Soda Jerk, Rylant creates a series of short poems, told from the point-of-view of a boy who works as an attendant at a soda fountain. The poems provide commentary on issues ranging from his customer’s lives to his fears about his future. In her 2001 collection, Good Morning, Sweetie, Rylant writes poems from the point-of-view of a toddler. In all of her collections, Rylant uses poetry as a way to create simple, but playful, images and her observations capture the inner voices and lives of young people.
Works in Critical Context
A winner of numerous awards, Rylant is universally praised for her simple, yet evocative language and her sympathetic portrayal of young characters.
A Blue-Eyed Daisy
Rylant’s first novel, the 1985 A Blue-Eyed Daisy, is an episodic coming-of-age story of a young girl in Appalachia. Critics overwhelmingly praised the novel for its blend of realism and inner contemplation, despite the fact that some critics found the episodic structure of the text a weakness. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books commented, ”Like many realistic novels, [A Blue-Eyed Daisy] describes a year in a child’s life; unlike many, it is written with enough grace and nuance and momentum to compensate amply for lack of a story line.” Other critics, like Betsy Hearne, found the structure to be a great strength: ”Episodic in nature, the story captures, as if in a frozen fame, the brief moments between childhood and adolescence.” A Blue-Eyed Daisy was named Children’s Book of the Year by the Child Study Association of America.
A Fine White Dust
Rylant’s 1986 novel about a young man struggling with issues of faith and religion earned numerous awards, including the Newbery Medal, a Horn Book honor, the Parent’s Choice Award, and the School Library Journal best book citation. Critics hailed the novel, citing Rylant’s ability to present complex emotional and spiritual issues in an accessible manner. Publishers Weekly noted that ”Rylant’s writing is deceptively simple, creating an emotional whirlpool for the reader. . . . Her characters are adults and teenagers who are neither good nor bad, but richly, heart-breakingly human.” Many critics praised the novel as among the finest written for children about spirituality, including Lucy Marx, who wrote ” A Fine White Dust is the best written YA novel dealing with religion and will appeal to readers searching for themselves and God’s place in their lives.”
- Ruffin, Frances E. Meet Cynthia Rylant. New York: PowerKids Press, 2006.
- Review of A Blue-Eyed Daisy. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 39, no. 11 (September 1985): 16.
- Review of A Fine White Dust. Publishers Weekly 229, no. 26 (June 27, 1986): 93.
- Antonucci, Ron. ”Rylant on Writing: A Talk with 1993 Newbery Medalist Cynthia Rylant.” School Library Journal 39, no. 5 (May 1993): 27-28.
- Cooper, Ilene. ”The Booklist Interview: Cynthia Rylant.” Booklist 89, no. 19-20 (June 1-15, 1993): 1840-2.
- Hearne, Betsy. Review of A Blue-Eyed Daisy. Booklist 81, no. 11 (February 1, 1985): 789.
- Frederick, Heather Vogel. ”Cynthia Rylant: A Quiet and Reflective Craft.” Publishers Weekly 244, no. 29 (July 21, 1997): 178-79.
- Marx, Lucy. Review of A Fine White Dust. Children’s Book Review Service 15, no. 3 (November 1986): 34.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.