Erie Hall of Fame
Virginia Sorensen Nominee: Virginia Sorensen
Nominated by: Jan Woods

Virginia Sorensen is the only author from Erie County and Northwest Pennsylvania to receive the distinguished Newbery Medal award. Sorensen’s Miracles on Maple Hill is written in multiple languages and is read throughout the world.

Miracles on Maple Hill was awarded the 1957 John Newbery Medal “for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for Children.” One Newbery Medal award is given each year by the Children’s Service division of the American Library Association. This recognition speaks volumes to parents and educators. Newbery Medal winners are often required reading and many teachers currently include Miracles on Maple Hill when teaching a unit on local Erie history and authors.

Virginia Sorensen (born February 17, 1912 in Provo, UT; died December 1991) is remembered as an acclaimed writer for both children and adults. Her, first novel, A Little Lower Than the Angels, was praised for its accurate psychological depiction of Mormon women faced with polygamy. Also celebrated was The Proper Gods, a novel concerning the Yaqui Indians of the American Southwest. Critics cite Sorensen’s simple, direct prose and her gift for developing realistic, convincing characters. Sorensen is credited with writing numerous adult novels and in the 1950’s, Sorensen began to write mostly children’s novels, which were also met with enthusiasm and recognition. Plain Girl and Miracles on Maple Hill, were written while she lived in Edinboro, PA.

Edinboro Pennsylvania is known for its long winter, deep snow, and good maple sugarin’ seasons. While living in Edinboro from 1952 through the summer of 1958, Virginia Sorensen wrote the wonderful children’s book Miracles on Maple Hill.

“MIRACLES on MAPLE HILL is warm and real…packed with incident, country magic, family love, and people to remember; it has substance and spiritual worth.”
The New York Time Book Review

Sorensen used real Edinboro people as characters in her book. The author visited the sugar house of Harvey and Amy Kreitz on Kreitz Road near Drake’s Mills between Edinboro and Cambridge Springs, PA and used the Kreitz sugarhouse as a setting for Miracles on Maple Hill. Harvey Kreitz was Mr. Chris and his wife, Amy, was Chrissie. The Kreitz’s grandchildren, Amy and Karl Hipple were Marly and Joe; and Marilyn Hilburn, Amy’s best friend, was Margie. The illustrated barn and house that Marly, Joe and their family lived in still stand on Kreitz road near state route 86.

The school nurse at Edinboro School, Anne Biehler, became “Annie get-your-gun”, the truant officer in Miracles on Maple Hill. The local hermit, Tony Beigel, was Harry, the hermit, the beekeeper who left a self-serve box at the end of his steep mountain road: “Take honey. Leave money. Gone for the day.” Tony kept a large herd of goats and made carved wooden chains, “dozens of ‘em, all sizes, hanging all over the walls.”

Virginia loved living in Edinboro and commented in one newspaper article that she “wanted to stay here forever.” From Virginia Sorensen’s Newbery Award acceptance speech, she writes:

“We arrived in Pennsylvania in September, and enjoyed passionately what happened almost at once to the maple trees. That breathless, unbelievable inner light! But soon they faded, the leaves fell and were burned along the village streets on smoky, chilly evenings. Then, one morning, the piles (of leaves) were white. Winter set in. Edinboro, old-timers told us with an odd, fierce pride, had the worst winters in the world. The name the Indians had left in the valley, Conneautee, meant, “Land of the Lingering Snow.” And it did linger, from late October on steady and white and deep. The village was isolated by muddy roads and dangerous pavement and sudden blizzards.”

Virginia Sorensen also knew and loved the Erie County area and recognized what it had to offer her family and her work. Virginia would leave her desk for a visit with Marian Kelly, the red-headed book –lady mentioned in Miracles on Maple Hill. In her acceptance speech, she writes:

“The Erie County Bookmobile would come to Edinboro every other Tuesday at three o’clock and park in front of the post office.”

Virginia Sorensen even mentions Erie in Miracles on Maple Hill: “Joe know Harry’s not there now, doesn’t he? About now, when winter sets in good, he always goes to the Old Folks Home out by Erie. Chadwick, up his road, always keeps his goats till spring.”

In Miracles on Maple Hill, Virginia Sorensen writes of spring, family, love, sugarin’, and of the miracles Marly discovers each spring: the first sap run and the beauty of nature. Most importantly, she writes of the miracles that Marly hoped might happen to her father who had been a soldier and a prisoner of war. He returned home to the family, a tired and broken man. Marly held on to the hope that miracles would not just happen in the sugarbush, but in his heart.

For anyone who has been to a sweet, steamy sugarhouse, felt the coming of spring in a sugarbush, tasted first run syrup, or has been moved by the sheer awe of the Northwest Pennsylvania seasons and woods, reading Miracles on Maple Hill captures what Virginia Sorensen knew and experienced about our Erie region.

BACK

© 2014 Erie Hall of Fame