Zilpha Keatley Snyder isn’t a name that rolls off your tongue when someone asks you to name a children’s book author, but she’s one of the authors that I loved as a kid, particularly a book of hers called Black and Blue Magic, which tells the story of a boy named Harry, stuck at home in San Francisco over a long, boring summer. It was a book about magic that sparked magic in me–fostering a love of reading, and eventually opening me up to the pleasures of writing children’s books.
Last week, Zilpha Keatley Snyder passed away at the age of 87, after having published many, many books, and garnering Newbery Honors for some of them. One of the most famous books, The Egypt Game, sits in my pile of to-be-read books.
To honor her memory, I’ve pulled out some passages from an essay (A Summer Full or Reading) that I wrote for the Nerdy Book Club last year about the books that influenced me and the Ballpark Mysteries books:
But Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatley Snyder was one book I returned to again and again. I remember reading it for the first time in early summer, lying on the floor of my two-level tree house. The book tells the story of Harry Houdini Marco, stuck at home in San Francisco with his mother during a long, boring summer vacation when his friends are all going off to do something interesting. What starts out as a dull summer quickly turns into a series of nighttime adventures after the mysterious Mr. Mazeeck gives Harry some magic ointment that enables him to grow wings and fly. That summer, reading Black and Blue Magic enabled me to fly over the hills and streets and bay of San Francisco, into Golden Gate Park and beyond.
Black and Blue Magic is the book I had in mind when I started writing book 7 of my Ballpark Mysteries chapter book series. The San Francisco Splash (obviously set in San Francisco) covers much of the same geographic ground, including San Francisco’s famous hills and its beautiful bay. Initially I hoped to pay homage to Black and Blue Magic by having a magic ointment be part of the mystery or by naming one of my main characters Harry. But as the plot developed, it was clear the story was going in a different direction.
In the end, while I wasn’t able to work in a reference to Ms. Keatley Snyder’s work, I was able to pick her book back up when I finished with mine. This time, I didn’t lie out in my tree house to read it, but I did sit back and let her book transport me once more to a summer full of mystery, adventure, and surprise.