Leda Schubert, of Plainfield, is a children’s author whose book about Marcel Marceau has won an award from a national group.
PLAINFIELD — Ushering children into the world of reading has been a lifelong passion for Leda Schubert. Her new book “Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words” has just received the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.
“They called me up and said, ‘You just won the award.’ I was flabbergasted. I never thought it was a possibility. I knew about it, but it just wasn’t on my radar,” she says.
Though Schubert, 67, didn’t expect to write the book, she became fascinated by Marceau’s story after her agent asked her if she might consider writing about the mime. Not knowing much about Marceau, Schubert dove into researching; she bought playbills off eBay, read innumerable books, went through the New York Times archives to read reviews of his performances and read every interview with Marceau that she could get her hands on.
“I just went on and on and on, because I wanted to distill all this information into a very simple framework,” she says.
Schubert has not always been a children’s book author, despite the dream of wanting to do just that, but books have been central to her life and work. She spent 17 years at the Vermont Department of Education as a school and public library consultant, reviewing and recommending books to the librarians, which she says is a service no other state can provide. She was also the children’s librarian at Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier.
“I was reading everything, and seeing everything and just thinking, ‘I don’t know if I will ever be able to do this, but this is really still what I want to do,’” says Schubert.
After a lot of rejection, her first book was published in 2000, a beginning reader series that featured her beloved dog, Winnie.
“They’re still my favorites,” she says.
Shortly after, she enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts in children’s writing program at Vermont College, originally just to check it out for one semester, as she already had a master’s degree in teaching from Harvard.
“I was there for five minutes and decided to go for the degree. I was immersed in that for two years, during which time my second book was published,” she says.
Upon her graduation from the program, the college asked her to join the faculty, but she says there was a period of time before she started teaching when the true test of what she had to offer the world of children’s literature occurred.
“You’re on your own, and it’s very frightening. You’re used to sending in packets and getting a lot of feedback and having a support team and all of a sudden it’s gone. You have to have a lot of discipline,” she says.
She did. Along with the discipline, inspiration struck while flossing her teeth in front of the television.
“I owe this all to my periodontist, who insisted that I floss. There was a documentary on George Balanchine and it said he choreographed a ballet for elephants, and I said, ‘What?’ It turned out to be a dream project.”
Her first nonfiction book, “Ballet of the Elephants,” came out in 2006 and tells the story of Balanchine and the circus and how it happened that a ballet for elephants was created. Three more books followed, but the process for “Monsieur Marceau” echoed the serendipity of “Ballet of the Elephants.”
“About halfway through writing, I remembered that when I went to college I took mime. I had almost forgotten it, and then I started thinking that there’s definitely a connection, just as there was with ‘Elephants,’” she says. Schubert had dedicated that book to her parents, among others, who had first taken her to the ballet and the circus.
“I read the dedication at a school reading and started to cry in front of all of these kids, because I realized that this book was an homage to my parents and their interest in the arts. You just don’t know — you don’t know where this stuff is coming from, it’s all so inaccessible. It’s fascinating,” she adds.
The Orbis Pictus Award is named for Johannes Amos Comenius, who wrote “Orbis Pictus (The World in Pictures)” in 1657; it is considered to be the first book expressly for children. Each year the National Council of Teachers of English singles out one book and up to five honor books for excellence in children’s nonfiction. Schubert’s “Monsieur Marceau” is this year’s distinguished title.
“It’s quite an honor, and I am thrilled,” says Schubert. She will attend the award luncheon in Boston in November.
As for what’s next for Schubert, she says she hasn’t decided yet. On leave from Vermont College of Fine Arts this semester, she is working on several projects but hasn’t lined anything up for publication.
“Life is getting shorter all the time,” she says. “But I do love writing. When I see a child respond to a book it’s just the best thing in the world.”
“Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words” is available at local bookstores and online. For more information on Schubert visit her website, www.ledaschubert.com.MORE IN Central Vermont
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