Fan Mail Wednesday #89: Book Dedications

I recently got a note from a fifth-grade teacher who has not only given me guidance and support over the years, she’s become a friend. She recently sent  a query about book dedications (below), and I thought it was an interesting subject, so decided to share it here. It got me thinking about all the great dedications (East of Eden by Steinbeck, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne; the Lemony Snicket dedications in the books for “A Series of Unfortunate Events”; Harry Potter #7, and many more.

Here’s A.A. Milne’s lovely dedication to his wife:

Do you have a favorite? Care to share it?

No, I guess not.

But anyway! We begin . . .

Hi,

We are publishing our hard cover books and I am getting ready to have the students write their dedications.  It occurred to me that I teach them the how to’s of this process, but not really the whys.  So, I’ve done a bit of research and found out why and how dedications first began.  My question to you is, as an author, how do you decide who to dedicate each book to?  What goes into your decision?  If you have a second to let me know, I’d appreciate it.  I thought it might make for a nice connection I could share with the kids.

Hope all is well.

Thanks,

Chris

I replied:

Chris,

I guess I’ve never really thought much about dedications, since they tend to rise up from the book itself.

For example, I know that I’m going to dedicate my next book to my wife, Lisa. It’s a book that’s taken me a long time to write, so I don’t feel like I’ve been that great a provider lately. Meanwhile, Lisa’s hard work as a midwife — all the many sacrifices she’s made for our family — has truly made the book possible. Without her support, I could not have done it. And sometimes it’s important to say those things out loud.

At the same time, that’s almost always true, and I can’t dedicate every book to Lisa. She’d get a swelled head.

With Six Innings, an important person in my life had recently passed away after a long illness. He was a children’s book editor, Craig Walker, and had taught me a lot about books and writing and life — plus we had seen a lot of baseball games at Shea together — so it felt natural to dedicate the book to him. Funny, but looking back, I assumed that I had dedicated it to my mother, since I closely connect baseball with Mom because she’s such a huge fan.

Um, sorry Mom!

I’ve dedicated books to ideas. For Along Came Spider, “For the evens, and the odds.”

For Bystander, I wrote that book with my brother John very much in mind. Amazingly, he died the day after I handed in the first draft to my editor, so he became like a ghost haunting the pages; I had to dedicate it to his memory and the two boys he left behind.

You can never, ever go wrong dedicating a book to your parents.

I’ve sometimes had someone who specifically helped me with the book, either through inspiration or assistance, so I’ve dedicated books to teachers and classrooms that I’ve visited. I’ve thanked editors and friends; I’ve noted poems and baseball teams (see: Mighty Casey); I’ve celebrated new births and ex-wives (though not at the time!); and I periodically dedicate books to my children, when the book seems like a good fit.

And lastly, with Jigsaw Jones, and 40 books in the series, I’ve gotten a little silly at times. I dedicated The Case of the Food Fight to “Hostess Cupcakes.” A little frivolous, I suppose, but beneath that I thanked a teacher, Ellen Mosher, who talked me through a couple of plot points. Her thoughts and suggestions very much shaped the story I would write, and I wanted to show my appreciation.

A dedication is an opportunity to thank someone. It’s a chance to say something nice, without the mushiness of actually having to stand there and say it. A dedication can be serious, thoughtful, sad, or funny. It depends on you, the author. In the best world, it is appropriate to the book, a beginning of sorts, cohesive with the story. It should all hang together as a whole.

But really, it’s not that complicated. The answer is in your heart.

Hey, a bloggable topic!

JP

P.S.: I remember a dedication by Johanna Hurwitz, I can’t recall the book, but it went like this: “To Robert Redford. He knows why.”

For an interesting article on dedications, which quotes the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Dedications with this withering line, “Dedications really do bring out the worst in authors,”  click like a maniac right here.

Collecting Children’s Books by Peter D. Sieruta has a nice blog entry about intriguing dedications from children’s books.

Here’s the Mamas & Papas with “Dedicated to the One I Love.”

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