Allison's Book Bag

Marilyn Sachs Helped Shape Realistic Fiction

Posted on: October 30, 2013

MarilynSachsMarilyn Sachs, the author of more than thirty books, is credited by some sources with helping to launch the trend of realistic fiction for young readers with her first book, Amy Moves In. Her middle-grade and young-adult novels, such as Veronica Ganz, which I’ll review tomorrow, are also known for their treatments of serious themes. In addition, reviewers have applauded her identification with and compassion for her flawed characters.

Born in the Bronx, Sachs lived on a street which didn’t have trees or flowers but did have lots and lots of children. Cars seldom came through and, in the summertime, the street was frequently closed to traffic. Sachs writes on her About Me page that “children spilled out of the tall apartment houses that ran down the block, and filled the empty spaces on the street and sidewalks”. Something was always going on outside. Although her family was among the poorer families, Sachs remembers her childhood fondly and it provided the framework for many of her stories.

Due to her being small, skinny, and afraid, Sachs proved easy prey for local bullies. Her father gave her boxing lessons and her older sister frequently fought battle for Sachs. None of these helped. The public library became a safe haven for Sachs, where reading became a past time. On her About Me page, Sachs notes that books brought her such comfort that she determined to be a writer.

An admitted crybaby and liar, Brief Biographies quotes Sachs as explaining that her “own rearrangement of reality always seemed much more appealing than what everybody else considered the truth.” Actually, Sachs’ childhood penchant for telling tales may have been inherited. Everyone in her family told stories and they were all different. For example, her grandmother told stories from her life in Russia while her father’s stories often dealt with the epic and heroic. As an adult, Sachs points to her childhood habit of stretching the truth as a positive qualification for writing fiction.

“Basically, the child who lies and the writer who weaves stories out of her own experiences, are each doing the same thing. They are rearranging the bare, boring facts into a more harmonious, meaningful pattern. The child, of course, gets scolded for lying while the writer is praised for her imagination.

–Marilyn Sachs, About Me

In her early teens, Sachs faced the loss of her mother. Her father also remarried and moved the family to a new neighborhood. Sachs liked her old school, she decided to finish her high-school education there. She had many friends, belonged to clubs, and served as an editor of the school newspaper.

Because of her wish to go to college over her father’s objections, Sachs left home after high-school graduation and enrolled at Hunter College. Ironically, there, she struggled with knowing what to write. However, she also met her future husband, sculptor Morris Sachs, and the couple married while they were still in college.

English: Front door of Brooklyn Public Library...

English: Front door of Brooklyn Public Library at sunset June 3 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After graduation, Sachs got a job as a library trainee at the Brooklyn Public Library. She stayed at the library for ten years, while returning to school to get her master’s degree in library science at Columbia University. Brief Biographies notes that somewhere along the line, Sachs also realized what kind of books she wanted to write and who she wanted to write for.

In 1954, Sachs took a six-month leave of absence from the library and wrote Amy Moves In. According to Brief Biographies, Sachs was proud of her manuscript, because of its basis in her own life, but editors rejected it because the story’s realistic depiction of a troubled family struggling during the Great Depression of the 1930s was deemed too negative for young readers. Editors asked her to alter her story to fit the happy ending formula of the time for most children’s. Sachs refused. For the next ten years, Sachs instead focused on motherhood and library work.

In 1963, a former Brooklyn Public Library coworker who had since become an editor at a book publishing company, contacted Sachs. She asked about the manuscript of Amy Moves In. Sachs looked over her novel and realized that it needed some work, but she sent it anyway, assuming it would be rejected. Brief Biographies notes that two weeks later Sachs received notice that the book was going to be published. Amy Moves In was received favorably by critics.

The publication of Amy Moves In changed her life. Sachs became a busy author. Brief Biographies quotes Sachs as stating that she wrote in between “childhood sicknesses, peace marches, flooded toilets, and all the other demands life made on my time.” On average, she wrote one book per year, including the middle-grade novel, Veronica Ganz, which Sachs still considers one of her best books. “Veronica was a composite of all the bullies who terrorized me as a child.”

One final word of encouragement to those of you who are cowardly, crybabies, and liars, as I was. These are extremely promising qualities for future writers. If you are a coward, you will probably spend more time at the library than you would ordinarily, and if you tell lies, it just shows that you have an imagination even if others don’t always appreciate it. Cry babies tend to be sensitive, which is also a plus for writers. When I grew up, I found that I had become a great expert on bullies, and my books are full of them. So, don’t feel you have to be smart, beautiful, brave and popular to become a writer. Or even to be a good speller. Losers often grow up to be writers, which means we have the final word.

–Marilyn Sachs, About Me


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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