There's a famous story about Margaret Atwood meeting a brain surgeon at a party. After some chit-chat, the surgeon announces that he plans to take up writing when he retires. ‘Really?' Atwood supposedly replied. ‘When I retire, I plan on taking up brain surgery.’ "
While I’m no Margaret Atwood, there have certainly been a number of hypothetical brain surgeons making similar proclamations to me. And in learning that I write for children, something that is perceived to be a much more easily attainable objective than, oh, say writing for adults, these brain surgeons imply their own writing success is simply a matter of setting themselves to the task. Writing for children, after all, must be easy.
Ask any room full of people to name a book or a story that has had a profound influence on their life, the memory of which elicits deep connections, and I guarantee a large majority of the answers will include books typically classified as “children’s”. Children’s literature lays a foundation for a lifelong affair with words and story. It damn well better be good. And good is very rarely easy.
Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) said, "I never spent less than two years on the text of one of my picture books, even though each of them is approximately 380 words long. Only when the text is finished … do I begin the pictures."
That doesn't sound easy.
So why do I write for children? I write because I have something to say or a story to tell, and sometimes what I write falls best into a category classified as “children’s”.
I have recently heard from several adults who have been profoundly touched by Once Upon a Northern Night. One woman told me she gave the book to her dying sister. Another spoke of reading the inspirational words daily when she was in hospital recovering from surgery. Is it a book for children? Yes. And no.
In the words of CS Lewis, “Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that, will read the story or re-read it, at any age… I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.”
Children’s literature, at least good children’s literature, celebrates simplicity without being simplistic. It is full of rich and delicious language, complex concepts and deep meaningful ideas. It is rife with metaphor and imagery, and a myriad of other literary devices. It engages and entertains. It is valuable. And it is literature.
So to all the brain surgeons setting aside scalpel for pen, I encourage you; creating story for children is rewarding. But don’t for a moment assume that choosing to write in a genre classified as children’s that it will be easy.
Our readers are much too valuable for that.