November 12, 2012

Why I Write for Children . . .

When I was a kid, my parents divorced.  My mom worked full-time.  My sisters were older and mostly out of the house.  Friends were scarce. 

I spent a lot of time here . . .

The Northeast Regional Library in Philadelphia.  (The children's department was in the basement.)

I made friends with Mr. Popper and his penguins.  I enjoyed the adventures of Ben Franklin and his trusty mouse, Amos, in Ben and Me by Robert Lawson.  But it was Wanda Petronski in Eleanor Estes' The Hundred Dresses that made me feel understood.  Less alone.  Like I had a friend.  Wanda was broke.  She didn't have a lot of clothes.  Or friends.  But she was imaginative and creative.  She was like me.  I was like her.

I hope the books I write help young readers feel less alone.  More understood.  Provide a few hours or days or a lifetime of literary friendship.

That's why it's such a delight when I open my P.O. box and find (not mail for the previous owner) but a letter from a young reader or a large envelope of letters from students at a school, which is what happened last week.

Here are some gems from 7th grade students in Illinois who read How to Survive Middle School:

"I would like you to write about in your next book, maybe about a boy that is having girl problems and doesn't know how to deal with them.  I would want it to be a comedy."  (Idea noted!)

"I really enjoyed this book.  I hope you make a squeal to this."   (How sweet is this misspelling?)

"It was one of the few books I could read, and not bore me.  The only bad part was how many characters there where.  If you fixed that then this book would be perfect.  I guest that nothing is perfect."  (My future editor.)

"I did not really connect to any of the characters."  (Love the honesty.  The young reader went on to tell me all the reasons he enjoyed the book.)

This letter from Emily, had me tearing up . . . 

"I relate to David because, just like him, I got bullied.  After Tommy gave him a "birthday gift," he said "Even though I could turn on my computer and read dozens of fan messages from people all over the world, I feel more alone than ever."  To me, that was the saddest part of the book, but the most relatable because when I was bullied, it seemed like I was all alone, and no one cared or understood what was going on.  I felt like no one knew how to help.  After I read that part of the book, I realized there is someone who is feeling the same way, and someone who was hurt just as bad as I was.  I learned not to give up hope."  

Thank you for your letter, Emily.  It's why I write for children.

14 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love the one about writing a squeal to the first book. :)

Wild About Words said...

Yes, Stina, every author hopes to write a squeal. :)

Dawn Malone said...

To me, fan mail is one of the best parts about being a children's writer. They're a testament that we are doing things right!

Wild About Words said...

Dawn, couldn't agree more!

Paula Berman said...

I loved that place. I still donate to it now and then. I really like Diana Wynne Jones's essays on why she writes for children, in the posthumously published Reflections: On the Magic of Writing. I think her answer can be summarized as "because too many adults want to read boring stuff," but of course she says it much better.

Amy Goldman Koss said...

Ah! Validation!!!! Fan letters mean all the pie was worth it!!!! xo A

Mirka Breen said...

Reading your post all I could think was, "You too..."
Yes, book were my friends growing up. What a privilege it is to create friends for others now.

Julie Hedlund said...

I want to write squeals to my books too! :-) Inspiring post!

Riley said...

Wow! Just...Wow! Thank you for sharing!!!

Wild About Words said...

Thank you, all, for your lovely comments.
Paula, when I think of you as a child, I think of the Northeast Regional Library. When decision-makers cut (or increase) library funding, they can't imagine the ripples it creates.

Katie L. Carroll said...

I think we all write for the kid we once were. Great post! I loved the fan mail.

Wild About Words said...

So true, Katie. We write for the kid we once were . . . and in the process, we write for so many other kids who need those words at just that time.

Nancy J. Cavanaugh said...

I have fond memories of loving some of the same books you did while growing up. I had a really long bus ride and used to read my way home. While other kids were screaming, yelling, or goofing around with their friends on the bus, I had my head buried in Henry Huggins or Beazus and Ramona or like you the Hundred Dresses. I was in my own little world, and it made me fall in love with reading!

Wild About Words said...

Nancy, I loved your comment. If I was on that bus with you, I'm sure we'd be reading together. :)

I can't wait for your new book to come out. It sounds terrific!