Thursday, September 24, 2015

BOOKS | New-Found Letter (Updated Feb. 2, 2017)

Boissevain Books Edition
of Kersti, 2010.
I have just come across an interesting letter from Hilda van Stockum dated December 15, 1995.

It is addressed to Jean Ann Sharpe has just surfaced of Bethlehem Books, which was going to print Kersti and St. Nicholas and had correspondence with the author about possible revisions.

In the end, the publication of Kersti dropped off the Bethlehem Books schedule. Boissevain Books picked it up instead.

The six HvS children collectively amended the book for several reasons listed below by HvS in the letter to Jean Ann Sharpe. HvS made changes starting on p. 59 of the original edition of Kersti and ending on p. 70.

Here is HvS's letter:
Dear Jean Ann, 
I wrote you some time ago but didn't send the letter as I waited to finish my correction of Kersti and St. Nicholas's ending, which I enclose now - but I lost the original letter in which I thanked you for the new books and the free copies and was enthusiastic about the new books. You are really wonderful in the cheerful appearance of the books.
You understand my spirit. May Massee [Viking's children's book editor] always wanted to show me as a significant writer. They [the books by Viking] got the prizes, but they are not always enjoyed by children - and you understand my approach - without pretensions - just colorful and friendly. So I am very pleased and so are my children.
Meanwhile I have been looking at Kersti, and it is a good book. Have you got it? The book was criticized on three points:
1. The Uncle Tom-ism of [St. Nick's] black servant, which soon after became non-u [today we would more likely say non-PC].  Actually, he was a Moorish servant from the Spain that St.  Nicholas supposed to come from (probably because Spain ruled Holland for so long. So I've changed him from Pieterbaas to Pedro - he calls St. Nicholas SeƱor - and I have left out the Negro characteristics - and Pedro is less servile.
2. The good children got no gifts. I agree with that now. I was young then [Kersti was published in 1940, when HvS was 32; it was the year that HvS's birthplace, Holland, was invaded; her first book was published six years earlier] and liked shocking people a bit. I also thought no child would identify with the good children. It was the librarians who were offended! Actually the story is better now, St. Nicholas performs a miracle, which is all right as it may be only a dream.
3. St. Nicholas boasts of reuniting cut-up and picked children. It's a true legend, but I have eliminated it. I think this has improved the story.
I hope you'll approve [of the changes]. May Massee should have spotted those things. She wasn't severe enough with me - but she was marvelous, the way she believed in me. I owe her a lot. As a writer I wasn't housebroken yet, when she got me. 
Have a lovely Christmas - you all deserve one. 

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