“Look! I’m carrying a kettle of scalding water.”
What’s with the face? You don’t like honesty? It’s not completely accurate to say I don’t like kids, because I do–on a child-by-child basis. But the species in general? Not so much.
And in case you’re wondering, yes I have two children of my own. Do I love them? With all my heart. Do I want to be surrounded by a battery of wee nose miners on a daily basis? Oh, my. NO.
I knew it. “The face” is back. You’re wondering why I want to write children’s books when I’m not a super fan of kids. Let me explain how I reconcile the apparent disconnect–at least as I understand so far.
Not too long ago I met Andrew Karre, the editorial director for Carolrhoda Books, at a retreat for children’s writers. He told us he believes children’s literature is about children, and not written for children. What’s the distinction? Motivation. Rather than being audience-centric and focusing on pleasing the reader, Karre suggests the drive to create children’s literature needs to focus inward. Intriguing perspective, isn’t it? I had to noodle over it for quite a while, but I think he’s right.
From the time I recognized myself as a writer an ice age ago, I knew I wanted to write children’s books. Isn’t that odd? So specific. So narrow. Children’s literature has an innate openness, optimism, humor, bravery and tenderness that makes it irresistible to me, as a reader and a writer. Those are the qualities I want funneling through my brain, my heart and my imagination. Writing about children allows me to experience that. I am so lucky. Knowing a child may enjoy what I love to write is a spectacular bonus.
What about you? Why does children’s literature call to you?
(And by the way, if you like kids, it’s okay. I still accept you.)
A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
~ C.S. Lewis
When I was a freshman at a little liberal arts university in Indiana, I worked in the campus library. There I was given the privilege of rehabilitating antique books housed in the library’s tiny archives. Pulling on white cotton gloves, I dabbed a lanolin-based concoction on the poor old spines, backs and faces of leather-bound books to prevent “red rot” (or deterioration of the leather into a red powder).
Looking back, I guess you could say I was a book masseuse. Mind you, I had no formal training. I have no idea what possessed the librarian to be so trusting. Perhaps no one else wanted to sit in the dim, musky, climate-controlled room swabbing long-forgotten volumes. Or maybe Miss Holcalm could see how much I respected and loved the books. Then again, I was a freshman. She could have told me to go dust the dictionaries page-by-page and I would have done it.
Knowing what you now know about me, you can understand why I was so thrilled when my husband brought home an entire box of antique books from his parent’s house. Dating back to the 1800s, these beauties with their embossed covers and intricate cover art and illustrations, are treasures. Here. Take a peek . . .
Loving children’s books as I do, I was delighted to carefully look through the charming illustrations and think about the little girl who once prized them.
Old books exert a strange fascination for me — their smell, their feel, their history; wondering who might have owned them, how they lived, what they felt. ~ Historical Novelist Lauren Willig
Watercolor by Vicky L. Lorencen
I was born in the year of magic. Not many people can say that, but I can. When I was born on March 4, 1963, amazing things were bubbling up in the realm of children’s literature. Beloved books like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak were published in 1963. While I have no concrete evidence to connect my devotion to children’s books to the time I was born, who’s to say otherwise? (And just so you know, Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was born in March too–if that helps to convince you.)
The 1960s were what I consider the golden age of children’s literature. Picture books we now consider classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Go Dog Go by PD Eastman, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish, and Norman Bridwell’s Clifford the Big Red Dog and Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban were enjoyed by parents and children for the very first time. Junior high students feasted on freshly published novels we now cherish like Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
Regardless of the era in which we are born or the format in which books are produced, I hope (and believe) children’s literature will always have an honored place in childhood. At an SCBWI National conference, I heard children’s novelist Margaret Peterson Haddix talk about the difference between the books we read as children and those we read as adults. She observed that as children we devoured our books. If we loved a book, we read it over and over and over again. We memorized it, pondered on it and carried it with us, in our small hands and in our hearts.
And she’s right. As children we build a cozy fort in our hearts for the books we love. Maybe it’s because as adults, fiction is a mirror of our experiences, but for children, books are our streak-free windows. They help us see and experience things for the very first time. And to a child, that feels like magic.
I was born in the year of magic. By re-reading the stories of my younger years and creating new ones, I plan to keep my inner child happy for many year to come.
I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth. ― Ovid, Metamorphoses