Cornelia Funke, Morry and the Book No One Ever Read

The wonderful Cornelia Funke (pronounced FOON-kah) was born in 1958 in Dorsten, Germany. Growing up, Cornelia didn't plan on being an author, let alone a world-famous one. When she was 18 she left home to study at the University of Hamburg, and earned a degree in education theory. Still undecided on what she wanted to do with her life, she took a course in book illustration at the Hamburg State College of Design.

She started designing board games and illustrating books for other authors. She did this for several years but it just wasn't enough for her. She was bored illustrating other people's stories, especially ones that just didn't interest her. She wanted to draw pictures for books that were more exciting, books about sorcerers and adventure. Finally, at 28, she wrote her own novel. Cornelia was so confident that when she finished she sent it right out to four publishers. She was confident for good reason as all four wanted to publish it!

After her success in Germany the British publisher, Chicken House, contacted her. Their Publisher and Managing Director, Barry Cunningham, was known for taking chances on new writers (does J K Rowling sound familiar?) They'd received a letter from an 11-year-old girl named Clara. She'd had asked why her favorite author (Cornelia Funke) was not published in English. Clara, who could read both German and English, had loved Cornelia's books for years. 

So in 2000 The Thief Lord was published in England. It sold out in just ten days. Two years later Cornelia's story broke out in the United States. Critics praised it, calling it an immediate classic.The Thief Lord reached the New York Times bestseller list, where it remained for twenty-five weeks.

Three years later Inkheart was released. It debuted at number 9 on the New York Times list and stayed on the list into the next year. 
More volumes followed and her fan based exploded. 
You can read all about Cornelia at her own very cool website.

This month Cornelia will publish a picture book for children entitled The Book No One Ever Read

It will be published by her own publishing company, Breathing Books and will be her first book originally published in English. Here is one of the first reviews, written by noted book reviewer Linda-Marie Barrett:

In Cornelia Funke’s middle-grade Inkheart Trilogy, Mo is a book binder who brings characters out of books by reading their words aloud. Books brim with life, characters long to be set free, to jump into our world, to take us into theirs. We discover that books change as we interact with them, and we change, too. For Funke, reading is a process that changes everything .
As Inkheart is a book about books, so is The Book No One Ever Read, a picture book filled with the same mystery, magic and humor of Inkheart, though less menacing, which makes it appropriate for younger readers. Published by her own publishing company, Breathing Books, Funke’s newest work features a book called Morry, short for Maurice Sendak. His face peers out from his cover, an homage to Where the Wild Things Are. Morry is a young book--hip with his red high-tops, smaller and thinner than the other books in the library. He’s different from them in another, more important way; he’s never been read.
“Every book longs to tell its story,” our narrator informs us, though some less than others. The authors of the other books in the library are content to doze. When they do look at us from their covers, they appear suspicious, sly, worried. They fret about the damage we readers do to them with coffee, chocolate, and a reckless casualness with their spines. They’ve already been read, they’d prefer to be left alone.

Morry pleads, “I want to be read, until I come apart!”
He sticks himself out from the shelf, and then is pushed off by a red-faced Victor Hugo and a slightly wicked Jane Austen. 

Morry survives his fall, leaves the library and finds what he seeks all along in the sticky fingers of a child dressed in a wolf costume. He will be read!
Funke’s elaborately-detailed colored pencil illustrations will spark conversation as readers guess at the authors peeking out through their illustrated covers. Funke hints at their identities through Dumas’ sword-wielding, Victor Hugo’s fierce facial hair,
Nietzsche’s mustaches, Jane Austen’s tendrils of hair framing her face.

Funke also encourages us to consider other questions. What happens to inanimate objects when we’re not looking at them? Do books talk to each other? Do they behave like the authors who wrote them, or the stories within their covers? What risks will a
book take to be read, to stand out among the others? Will it throw itself from a bookshelf, as has happened to many readers visiting bookstores or libraries, when a book suddenly leaps from the shelf towards them. Is it asking to be read? Is it risking all to tell its story? Funke suggest this just might be so, and that is a delightful thought.

And now, my interview questions with the prerequisite time travel question at the end.

Tell me about where you live now and why you love it so much. 
What do you miss the most about Germany? 

I live in Malibu, California, between ocean and mountains, surrounded by dolphins, pelicans, gophers, white tail and many other human and non-human creatures. Who could ask for more? As for Germany- I do miss the bread and the fact that I can have a picnic in the forest without worrying about rattlesnakes.

Where were you living when you were 7 years old? Are they fond memories?
I lived in a small town in Westphalia, which is in the heart of western Germany. 
Dorsten, Germany

It is a strange mix of rural and industrial landscape, so my usual view was cows on a meadow, maybe a water castle in the back and factory chimneys on the horizon. I played a lot outside at 7, with many friends, at a time when childhood wasn’t constantly supervised by adults. So yes, fond memories.

Did you have a favorite teacher and are you still in touch with him or her?
The two favorite teachers I am still in touch with were my teachers during middle and high school. (In Germany, the teachers don’t change with the year, only with the subject) They were my teachers in German and English.

Is there a book that changed the way you look at life?
Oh there are so many. I think every good book we read gives us a new pair of eyes to look at the world. As a child the most impressive one was probably The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. 

The Lord of the Rings still makes me look at landscapes differently, though I love The Once and Future King even more. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden by Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham’s short stories, every poem I read, every fairy tale collection, non fiction like Michael Pollen’s Botany of Desire and An Omnivore’s Dilemma…. I could fill pages with titles. I guess I better stop:)

What about the Once and Future King makes it your favorite children’s book?
It’s not my favorite children’s book. It is my favorite book. Some of the best books are for all ages, as that’s what storytelling should do – tell a story that both the 5 and the 95-year-old will listen to. The Once and Future King has that quality. 

It is wildly funny and wildly sad. It is endlessly wise and witty, compassionate with humans and non-humans and so well-written.

How many of the 4000 varieties of potatoes have you tried?
I can’t count them. As a child my mother used to call me Pockels because that’s how I called them. I couldn’t say Kartoffel, which is the German name.

What are the funniest or most embarrassing stories your family tells about you?
You have to ask my family! I know my mother says I was her wildest child and that it was impossible to keep an eye on me, and that my father told me I was incredibly talkative. I was always a tomboy, the wild horse in the yard who enticed the others to play games with elaborate story lines. I am sure I was quite exhausting at times.

How did you meet Rolf? How did your first date go?
I met my husband, because he was my godmother’s student – at a school where adults could get the degree to qualify for university. Rolf had been a book printer apprentice at the age of 14 so never finished school when he was young. 

As for our first date – that was so stormy that I can’t tell it here.

Is there a song that you listen to when you are feeling a bit down?
Oh, there are many. I constantly listen to music, music of all kinds. There is an album of classical music THE DOWLAND PROJECT: CARE CHARMING SLEEP , that I love to listen to in many moods. When I write it is always music from the time that inspired the story, in the mornings it may be Diana Krall or Cecilia Bartoli, in the car it may be the Rolling Stones or Bon Iver and when I paint, I always listen to THE NATIONAL

I know you love animals. Are you a vegetarian?
Yes, since January 2016.

How are you different now than you were 25 years ago?
I am vastly different, though probably my current Self was asleep and waiting in a room of my heart. I didn’t like to travel. I was a social worker who was starting to become an illustrator. I had no idea I would write one day. I was not a mother yet and not yet a widow. I had never lived in a country other than Germany or spoken another language regularly. Most of the people who matter to me now I didn’t know yet, most of the places that define me I had not seen yet. It’s been a long and winding way to the age of 58 and such a glorious and unforgettable journey, that despite the heart break we all find on the way I feel very blessed in my life. I would never even have dreamt of the life I have now when I was 25.

And finally, in a short essay…………………………

to any period from before recorded history to yesterday,
be safe from harm, be rich, poor or in-between, if appropriate to your choice,actually experience what it was like to live in that time, anywhere at all,meet anyone, if you desire, speak with them, listen to them, be with them.
When would you go?
Where would you go?
Who would you want to meet?
And most importantly, why do you think you chose this time?

If I could travel in time, I would probably first of all have a look at times before men, to see this world without the impact of our plundering species. But…as I would for sure be eaten within the first five minutes, I will describe my second travel in time, to June 1888 and the islands of Hawaii. Why? 
 Well, it would for sure be a treat  to meet King  Kalakaua,
but my main reason for the journey would be another man: Robert Louis Stevenson, 
as infatuated as I am with the Pacific, with travels and adventure stories, with a weakness for Scotland, that I share as well, although it is not my home country. I will sit on the beach with this Mozartian writer, who once explained to me that readers don’t read a book for the plot, but because of the eyes a writer lends them to look at the world in a new and enchanting way. I would talk with him about Treasure Island and his haunting description of a truly evil man in it, about being born in Europe and falling in love with the New World, about travels and for sure about love and how much a writer should try to live what he/she writes about. 

I wouldn’t tell him about Samoa and that he doesn’t have much longer to live when I meet him – we should never know the end of our stories – but I would tell him that he will be read by millions and for many many centuries to come. 

Of course we would drink very good rum while we are talking. After all I would sit next to the writer who wrote one of the most magnificent pirate stories. And maybe a sip of Scotch to honor RLS’s homeland. 

Thank you so much Cornelia! When your road brings you to Asheville, I hope we can sit looking at the mountains at dusk, listen to the Dowland Project and sip some quality scotch together.
For more on Robert Louis Stevenson in the tropics, click here.


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