Saturday, July 25, 2009

Child's Play??

Like so many writers and avid readers, my childhood was filled with books. This week I've been working on a children's book that I promised to my nephew, Liam, who will be in first grade this fall. He, like his aunt before him, was too impatient to wait for the school system to teach him what those mystical symbols on the page were all about. He taught himself to read, and now spends his summer reading absolutely everything with gusto. He's close to a second grade level already, and can sit with a beginning book in his lap without any assistance. He knocked me off my feet about two weeks ago when, while sounding out words on the sports page of the Herald, he struggled for a few moments and then blurted out the word "intercollegiate."

Folks, I know college graduates who can't spell it, much less sound it out from the page.

So I promised him his very own book as a reward, and I'm working on it now. Since I intend to break every rule in the book to create it-- and since I don't know what I'm doing anyhow-- I'll self publish it.

You'd think that writing for children would be simple, since they are, right? The arrogance of that statement is why, I think, so many people find themselves stunned when they answer those crappy ads in magazines shouting "YOU CAN WRITE CHILDREN'S BOOKS." It's actually quite likely you can't. I've always been marginally aware that writing for younger people bears a greater responsibility. But until I sat down to pen something for beginning readers I'd never considered how much it took.

Try it. Write a sentence describing your sneakers. Use only vocabulary, sentence structure, and imagery a child of five to seven years can understand. It's not that simple. Now try to create a story rich enough to make a child who is being reared in technicolor HD magical boob-box-hood within the same parameters.

It makes me genuinely appreciate the absolute genius of Doctor Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and god-love-them, the people involved in Sesame Street.

I clearly remember the very first books I devoured, including Where the Wild Things Are, The Monster at the End of this Book, and everything Seuss. But like my nephew, I was quickly bored with anything that seemed to be addressing me as a child. I quickly moved on to slender, first novels. My teachers were not so much pleased as mortified to find me hunched over The Hobbit and Watership Down by second grade. They were probably right, too. I was intellectually fascinated but the darkness did frighten me, and I was most likely nowhere near emotionally ready.

Anyway, wish me luck on Liam's book. It's harder than I thought it would be, but I suspect I will be prouder of myself than I thought, too. This ain't child's play.


  1. if anyone can do it, you can.

  2. Best of luck! I know you're going to do a great job!

  3. "When I have something to say that I think will be too difficult for adults, I write it in a book for children." ~Madeleine L’Engle

  4. BRILLIANT post. And so true.