In her talk with students, Murdock, whose latest work, The Book of Boy, was named a 2019 Newbery Honor Book, described how her lifelong passion for writing (and castles) took shape at a young age and eventually led her to Bryn Mawr College and the Growth and Structure of Cities program.
“I went to this place [she points to a photo of Bryn Mawr College Pem arches] because it looked like a castle. I just loved that castle vibe,” Murdock admitted to the gathered students.
In describing how a passion for writing led to majoring in the Growth and Structure of Cities program, she explained, “I loved Cities because my focus was architectural history and—it took me a while to figure this out—I loved architectural history because a building is a text you can read if you know what you’re doing. And if you know what you’re looking for. And that ability to read the landscape is magical for me. So I’m not interested in architecture for the architect, I’m interested in the architecture for the narrative. I wanted that narrative and I still want that narrative.”
She then went on to talk about the writing of The Book of Boy. Set in 1350, the book recounts the journey of the eponymous Boy, who accompanies the pilgrim Secundus as they gather relics associated with Saint Peter.
“I had written seven books in seven years, and I was fried,” said Murdock. “And then I came across a parenthetical in a guidebook describing an ancient pilgrimage that will earn you a full indulgence which fascinated me. I spent four years working on this project, trying to find a narrative within all the history.”
After graduating from Bryn Mawr, Murdock earned her doctorate in American civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania and dabbled in screenwriting before writing her first book, a young adult novel titled Dairy Queen. Her other young adult books include The Off Season, Front and Center, Princess Ben, Wisdom’s Kiss, and Heaven is Paved with Oreos. She’s also the author of Domesticating Drink: Women, Men and Alcohol in Prohibition America.
For students interested in melding history and story in children’s literature, Murdock recommends making it fun while at the same time educational.
“In The Wall Street Journal’s review of The Book of Boy, it was said that children will not realize how much they’re learning. And that is the best way to teach history in my book. Mix it with a lot of chocolate and kids will eat it up.”