Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Why do I Write for Children?

     There's an interesting blog post going around this morning by Marion Dane Bauer, Why Write for Children. Occasionally I ask myself the same question. Did I get stuck in some sort of developmental Never Land? Am I not a good enough writer to write for adults? Is juvenile literature somehow less valuable?
     Those who think it's easy or trivial, have probably never tried it or written anything memorable. I can't say exactly why, but the books I love best to read--and to write--are mostly intended for young people. Once, a writer I truly respect and admire, actually told me that my writing was being wasted on kids. I felt cut to the bone. It was all I ever wanted to do--my personal Olympic quest.
     "Did you like to read when you were a boy?" I asked him.
     "Oh yes, I was a passionate reader!" he assured me. He went on to tell in great detail how much he had enjoyed the works of Twain, Ernest Thompson Seton, Jean Craighead George, and E. B. White. He could recite long verses of Kipling.
     "And do you think your reading as a child had anything to do with the person and the writer you are today?" I asked.
     He paused. "Well, yes. Absolutely."
     "I rest my case." But I couldn't help adding, "You wouldn't have story, language, and the means for putting it together if you hadn't grown up on great literature. What if, like a diet of white bread and sugar, you had grown up on junk? Do our children deserve anything less than the best?"
     I was a shy, sometimes lonely kid. For the most part, my childhood was safe and wonderful, but there were undercurrents of unhappiness, anger, even some bullying. Books meant everything to me, not just as an escape, but as a parallel world every bit as true as this one. I know there are kids out there who feel the same way.
     Maybe, like James Barrie, children's writers are really children who never entirely lost the magic--who never quite grew up. I love to stop and listen to kids and to look at the world as much as I am able to through their eyes: the newness, the moment-to-moment discovery, the joys and tragedies big and small, the funny stuff, the spurts and bumps and metamorphosis of growth! How I loved the man who took time from my parents' cocktail party to teach Cathy and me the dot and line game and tell us a story. Maybe he was one who never quite grew up.
     On rare summer afternoons, our big brother, Ted, who now writes for Audubon and Fly Rod & Reel, told us "badjagerag" stories evolved from Hugh Lofting's Dr. Doolittle tales. There was magic! How I believed in Ted and Dave's adventures in Africa and those glowing green eyes in the hot jungle night!
     These days, Ted's five, grandchildren cozy up next to him at the camp in New Hampshire or call "Pop" on the phone for Crackling Geese, Young "Sloppy," and a fountain of other stories that he has never thought worth writing down. A loss to the world. Ted Williams is an award-winning, fine and respected environmental journalist. He cooks sunfish fillets for the kids, calling then "children's perch" to stretch out a family fish-fry. But actually, the sunfish are entirely delicious too, just a different species. Maybe one day he'll write some of his stories down. It would be a great contribution to the world of literature--juvenile and adult.    


No comments:

Post a Comment