Post Your Opinion
Many Paths - Frieda Wishinsky speaks with Joan Bodger
by Frieda Wishinsky

Storyteller, Gestalt therapist, teacher, librarian, cryptographer, book reviewer, tour guide, and author: Joan Bodger's career gives new meaning to the word "multi-faceted". "When a door opens, go through it," is Bodger's philosophy. That maxim has guided her through an exciting, tumultuous, and productive life.
And despite what seem to be different career paths, her work has been linked by a three passions: words, people, and places.
Born in California to an American father and English mother, Bodger learned not only how to cope with change but to revel in it. Her father's work as an officer in the United States Coast Guard and Navy forced the family to move from one tough port town to another. In the 1930s, when her dad spent months away on an International Ice Patrol, her mother took the children to Britain. There, Bodger was educated at home with her cousins, spent hours in the local library, and read voraciously. Then it was back to the United States for high school and university.
But it wasn't just her varied experiences that taught her to relish new experiences, it was her mother's attitude.
"My mother grew up in a country house in England," she recounts. "When she came to the United States she looked at everything with new eyes. She took delight in the world around her." Bodger's mother, like her daughter, was a good listener and a vibrant storyteller: "When I'd come home from school, I'd tell my mother everything I saw and did and she was really interested."
Bodger's mother told her children stories of her own childhood-a childhood filled with governesses and large country homes. She also recited nursery rhymes and read fairy-tales. Many of the fairy-tales were so vivid that "I used to get mixed up. I thought the boy who cried `Wolf' lived on my grandfather's estate!" she recalls with a laugh. And when they were travelling, her mother would tell them stories as they waited in a train station or by a boat dock. "We also made up our own stories," she says Bodger. "We had a game where we'd take the people on a bench across the room and I'd say to my older sister, `I'll let you have the lady in the big hat if you'll let me have the man with the string around his suitcase.'" And then the girls would invent stories about the people they saw.
As for Bodger's father, he was proud of his girls and let them know it. "When people would say to him, `Three girls no boys. Too bad,' my father would draw himself up and say, `I prefer girls.'"
But it wasn't only her parents who influenced her attitude toward life and work, but also a strong journalism teacher in San Pedro High School in California. "She'd been a hot-shot girl reporter in the 1930s," says Bodger, "and she was different than any other teacher I'd known. I'd always gotten praise for my writing but I'd never had anybody take a blue pencil to it. She'd say, `This is soft. Get rid of this adjective.' Or, `It has to fit in this space so you're going to have to lop it off.' And she'd reduce me to tears but she'd say, `If you're serious about writing, you have to listen to your editor and learn how to take criticism.'"
After two years in college, Bodger worked as a cryptographer in the Women's Army Corps during World War II. A few years later, she married and raised two children. She also finished university and continued to write and tell stories. In November 1958, she began to write book reviews for the New York Times. The following December, she wrote for The Horn Book, an esteemed children's literature journal. In 1965, Bodger's first book was published by Viking. Called How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the Sources of British Children's Books, it's a travelogue, a personal memoir, and a history of children's literature.
Around that time, she also taught storytelling and children's literature at the Bank Street College of Education and at Brooklyn College. In addition she directed an early Head Start program and served as the director of a therapeutic nursery in a large new York orphanage. Her work there was described in a book by the well-known Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles. Then after a stint as director of children's library services in Missouri, she married for the second time and moved to Toronto.
Toronto brought her new challenges. Bodger co-founded the Storytelling School of Toronto and became deeply involved with storytelling all over the world. She set up a project to teach abusive mothers to bond with their children using nursery rhymes.
In recent years, Bodger and Ken Setterington (a librarian) have led an annual tour to England called "A Writer's Journey to King Arthur's England". "The countryside, the woods, the ruined castles, the land practically vibrate," Bodger says of England. She strongly believes that language and myth grow out of landscape. And for her, the English landscape is a rich source of wonderful stories.
Her newest published book, Clever Lazy, reflects not only Bodger's resilient personality but her beliefs, passions, and ideas. They're all translated into a compelling tale of a unique Chinese girl, living centuries ago, who refuses to let traditional roles bind her. Clever Lazy is an inventor who learns how to cope successfully with change, tragedy, heartbreak, and opportunity. And she doesn't let things just happen. She makes them happen. After speaking with Joan Bodger, you get the distinct impression that Clever Lazy is a lot like her literary creator.

Frieda Wishinsky's latest book is Crazy for Chocolate (Scholastic Canada).


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us