Kenneth Grahame’s renowned Toad, Mole, Ratty, and Badger will make a return appearance in a recently announced sequel to 1908’s The Wind in the Willows. Tentatively titled The Willows Redux, the novel is penned by Jacqueline Kelly, whose 2009 debut book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, was a Newbery Honor book. Like that novel, The Wind in the Willows sequel will be published by Holt Books for Young Readers and edited by Laura Godwin, v-p and publisher of the imprint. Newcomer Clint G. Young will illustrate the novel, scheduled for fall 2012 release, when a film adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, directed by Ray Griggs, is due from RG Entertainment.
“The Wind in the Willows was my favorite book when I was a child,” reflects Kelly, who is a member of the Kenneth Grahame Society. “I first read it when I was eight years old, in bed with the flu, and I still read it from time to time. It’s what Laura [Godwin] calls, quite appropriately, ‘comfort literature,’ and I think that’s a lovely term that says it all. When you’re feeling low or worn out, there is nothing like that novel to make you feel better.”
Kelley says that she can’t recall exactly when it was that she decided to write a sequel to Wind in the Willows (which is in the public domain). “When I finished my first novel, I was casting around for ideas for my next book, and at some point it just came to me that I was going to write this novel. I didn’t know if it would ever sell, but I love these characters, and decided I was going to do it.”
As to re-creating Grahame’s voice, Kelly notes that “I strove to emulate him, but as I worked on the novel, I realized it was impossible to duplicate his voice. The Wind in the Willows has a very old-fashioned voice in a slower-paced book. I tried to preserve that quality, but felt I had to make the plot more appealing to the modern young reader, so I tried to inject as much adventure as I could.”
Re-imagining Grahame’s original 1908 animal characters was not difficult, Kelly says. “When I first read The Wind in the Willows, I was immediately transported to that riverbank, and I’d heard those voices in my head for a long time. They were there for me.”
A Well-Suited Writer—and Illustrator
Godwin believes it made perfect sense for Kelly to tackle a sequel to Grahame’s beloved novel. “Jackie has a very classic writing style, and is very good at capturing the natural world—and capturing a mood,” she observes. “The original novel and this sequel are not so much plot-driven. To me, you’re hanging out with the characters, and you have to be in their environment, and that’s what Jackie is so good at creating. She’s able to cast a spell in a way that makes the reader want to go down the road with her. Though Jackie could have suggested writing a sequel to The Sun Also Rises and I would have gone down that road with her!”
Other than their obviously strong editor-author bond—and their mutual love of The Wind in the Willows—Godwin and Kelly have another connection. Godwin is Canadian, and Kelly was born in New Zealand and moved to Vancouver Island as a child. “We’re both members of the Commonwealth,” Godwin states proudly. “And of course Grahame was English, so we’re all loyal to the Queen—that’s the bottom line.” Kelly observes that she and Godwin “both grew up with the same British-based literature and had that common experience. That’s probably one reason Laura liked the book and decided to buy it.”
It was Kelly who lobbied to have fellow Austin, Tex., resident Clint G. Young illustrate her sequel. The author spotted samples of Young’s artwork at a local SCBWI conference and, she remarks, “I though they were the most wonderful illustrations I’d seen in a long time.”
What especially caught Kelly’s attention was Young’s drawings of Toast, a pig character who is the star of his debut picture book, The Wish Collector, which is under contract with Feiwel and Friends but does not yet have a pub date. “Clint has a lovely kind of naturalistic art, and this little pig character has a spark of life and humor to it that I just loved—and wanted for my characters,” the author says.
“For anyone who is an illustrator, of course this was like the golden cup,” says Young of Kelly’s request that he illustrate The Willows Redux. The artist jumped at the chance to create new renditions of Grahame’s animal characters, which were originally portrayed by Ernest H. Shepard. “I looked closely at what Shepard had done, and put a modern-day twist on it,” he says. “I’m a big fan of The Wind in the Willows and of the anthropomorphic style of those illustrations, so it was easy to slide into that setting and try to capture everything that Jackie has put into her fantastic story. It’s been a real treat.”
And that’s apparently the case for all involved—despite the daunting task of following in Grahame’s esteemed footsteps. “I think you have to proceed cautiously where a classic has established itself in the hearts of readers for generations,” Godwin remarks. “I wouldn’t jump on board very often—and in fact haven’t ever before. There has to be something special about such a project, and you have to have a lot of faith in the author.”
Kelly also appreciates the challenge of following up such a masterpiece of children’s literature. “This is such a timeless, much-loved novel, and only recently, after I finished writing the sequel, did I realize what I’d done,” she says. “I still don’t know how people will react to the book, and I really hope they’ll understand that I adore the original, and that this is my tribute to it.