word craft


Avi, What’s Your Best Book?

I once asked my very good friend, the late, great, Natal­ie Bab­bitt, why she didn’t write more.  Natal­ie was always mod­est and self-dep­re­cat­ing to the extreme, but her answer at that time was, “Peo­ple always tell me that Tuck Ever­last­ing, is one of the best children’s books ever. How could I do bet­ter than that?” 

When a writer has writ­ten a good num­ber of books, it’s both under­stand­able and even rea­son­able for read­ers to say, “My favorite book of yours is ______________.” And while it’s more than nice to know some­one enjoyed one of your books, there is a down­side to that compliment. 

No More Magic
No More Magic

Instance: I had a friend who took it upon her­self to read all my books. When­ev­er she read the lat­est and report­ed back to me, she’d always say. “I real­ly liked ______________ but my favorite book of yours is still, No More Mag­ic.” That is my first nov­el writ­ten in 1975. In oth­er words, in all the years since, accord­ing to that loy­al read­er, I had not writ­ten any­thing better. 

Not encour­ag­ing. 

(Of late she has stopped read­ing my books.) 

That said, at some point, when my writ­ing career is over, per­haps some­one will eval­u­ate all my work (in an obit­u­ary?) and may well say, “Avi’s best book was ______________.” And maybe they will be right, though such a judg­ment is high­ly sub­jec­tive. For I can also safe­ly say I’m not aware of any­one who has read all of my books. So that when some­one tells me that such and such is my best book, in my head I think (but nev­er say) but did you read ______________? 

When I talk to my young read­ers and some­times adults, one of the most com­mon ques­tions I am asked is, “Of all the books you have writ­ten, what’s your favorite?” 

My answer is, “The book I am work­ing on.” 

That is true. 

I always want—and work—so that my cur­rent project will be the best. Will it be? It’s not for me to say. Read­ers (see above) will make that judgment. 

And yet…and yet…A part of me does know. I have a new book that will be pub­lished next sum­mer. Its title is The Secret Sis­ters. It is a par­tic­u­lar­ly good book, one of my bet­ter ones. The book I fin­ished just before that one is titled Fear. I felt it was so poor I did not offer it to any publisher. 

Think­ing that a work-in-progress can be good makes me work hard­er. It is exhaust­ing if I sense a book is not that good. 

I have two favorite remarks about the mak­ing of art. 

“Art is not what you see but what you make oth­ers see.” 

—Edgar Degas

“Art is nev­er fin­ished, only abandoned.”

—Leonar­do Da Vinci

 Nice work—if you can get it. 

4 thoughts on “Avi, What’s Your Best Book?”

  1. Dear Avi: I have not read all your books (yet) but I have read a good many of them, and I won’t be sur­prised when and if I do com­plete this task — I’m a big kid, age 67. I am cur­rent­ly in the mid­dle of your two book set about Oliv­er Cromwell and his sis­ter, Char­i­ty. I have been putting off Crispin, because I’m not sure I will like the set­ting. I lean more toward 18th Cen­tu­ry Amer­i­cana. I also enjoy your trai­tor tales. Of the books I have read, I can hon­est­ly say I real­ly like them all. Your sto­ries are those that the read­er can­not put down. How­ev­er, if I had to pick my favorite(s), it would be the two vol­ume set “Escape From Home” and “Into The Storm”. My biggest com­plaint (which I actu­al­ly wrote you about when I fin­ished the books) was that I feel there is a need for at least a third vol­ume to this sto­ry. I was look­ing for­ward to fol­low­ing this sto­ry as the sub­jects made their way out west. The end­ing just left me hang­ing. Give it some thought Avi, and please put out vol­ume #3. Thanks for shar­ing your imag­i­na­tion with us.

    • I once agreed to do this but backed off when I could­n’t see my way through. Maybe some­day I will.
      Thanks for your kind thoughts. Have you read LOYALTY? 18th cent to the hilt.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed Tuck Ever­last­ing and was a young teacher when I was invit­ed to an ear­ly release show­ing to see the movie. I was then able to take my 5th grade class on a field­trip to the El Cap­i­tan The­atre in Hol­ly­wood to see the movie. Ever since then, I’ve always been hope­ful that I’d be able to do the same for The True Con­fes­sions of Char­lotte Doyle. As we’ve now start­ed the new school year and are five chap­ters in, those thoughts have again resurfaced.

  3. Read­ing your thoughts on your book Fear just makes me want to read it. It also reminds me of a sto­ry I’ve heard you tell to my class a cou­ple of times about a scary sto­ry you wrote years ago and gave to your pub­lish­er. They gave it back to you and told you it was too scary to ever pub­lish as a kids book. A few years lat­er they called you and decid­ed to revis­it it. Yet, you could­n’t find it. I believe you had recent­ly found it when telling my class about it and were decid­ing to pos­si­bly edit and resub­mit it. I always enjoy insights into your work like this.


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