I’m pretty sure that I’ve led on with the last few posts just how in love I am with books and children’s literature. I have a lot of respect for the writers who are able to write well for kids. It’s not an easy career path, and one writer once told me that it’s harder to write for children than for adults. With kids, you’re writing for an audience without a lot of personal experience to draw off which leaves it up to the writer to create those experiences for their audience. All too often children’s book writers are writing for blank slates who have yet to live a lot of important and developmental life experiences. It’s a tough job to create life experience on the page, and I’m really glad that there are people out there that rock at it. I love being able to share books by people who are so awesome that I think the world should be reading them with their kids. I’ve been having a fantastic time drafting posts and chatting up some of the greatest writers I know of, but earlier this week I noticed a huge hole in my posting. I’ve been remiss, but no more. Today I remedy my errors. Today we’re going to discuss some of the very best writers for children- children.
Now, unless you know a Short-Stack-Suess, the children you know probably haven’t been published. If you do know a Small Silverstein, please give them a huge high-five from me and let him or her know he or she is now my hero. For everyone you’re like me and are not surrounded by pint-sized-published-protégés. What we all do have in common is that we all know at least one really awesome kid. I personally claim two, my pseudo siblings Leah and Kenny.
Leah and Kenny are ten and nine making them late additions to our extended friend-family network. We’re glad to have them though and have had so much fun watching them grow and learn. They never cease to amaze me with their beautifully broad imaginations. They are some of the best story tellers that I have ever had the great privilege to work with.
Now, Leah’s still mastering the cursive alphabet and Kenny’s working on basic paragraphs so their bodies of written work are pretty limited. More often than not we have to force them to sit down just to eat dinner let alone have them sit still long enough to write a book, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t constantly telling stories. Like every other human alive, Leah and Kenny explain and understand their lives in a long list of different series of events. Essentially, people understand their worlds through groupings of small stories that all combine to create the narratives of their lives. Though we rarely think about it, life is just a really long narrative with highs and lows, but kids are much more observant and take much better notice than jaded adults. It’s awesome to hear Leah and Ken talk about their days at school. The details that those two remember from the day-to-day happenings make the nonfiction writer in me wallow in envy that their memories are still so quick and rich.
Nobody tells a story like a young child because their creativity is out of this world. A child’s mind is open to all possibilities, and so kids view the world in such a way that everyday experiences hold something new or special and different for them. Part of the benefit of having a limited personal experience bank to work from is that kids are constantly able to have new experiences and think new ideas. If kids don’t have a word to describe an experience or idea, they make one up. For example I have a friend who called cemeteries ghost farms when she was little. Another friend thought nostrils were “nose drills.” Even Kenny, when he was little, called Chihuahuas “Chi-wow-wows.” Kids are rock stars when it comes to making stuff up. Some of the craziest fiction comes from the mouths of babes, and it is my great pleasure to use that against Leah and Kenny when I babysit.
Whenever I hear the words “Cassy! I’m bored,” I whip out my writer hat and ask them to tell me a story. This usually gets me a “I don’t know any stories.” I could laugh at that. These pint-sized humans have more stories than Lake Ontario has fish, but I bite the hook and usually give them something to get them started. Sometimes I have to tell Leah what kind of story I want to hear or give Ken a character to tell me about. All I provide is something small to get the ball rolling. After that, they do the work and run with the idea and can keep running for days.
This past summer, I started telling Leah and Ken a story after another infamous, “Cassy! I’m bored.” For the next two and half hours the three of us sat around and drafted a hero’s story. Our protagonist Jonah went on a quest to find his stolen magical sword which he would later use to rescue his lady-love, Lois. At Jonah’s side were a dwarf with an attitude problem and a mystical beast with magical healing fur known only as Sharp Claw. With the exception of naming Jonah and Lois, adding a few key plot points, and asking a couple of questions to prompt their imaginations, I did very little in creating the story. Leah and Ken blew me away with their tale. It’s a beautiful thing to watch their minds come alive in story, and I get a huge kick out of making them be the authors.
Every time Leah and Kenny tell me a story, they remind me of the best thing about kids, that for them there are no limits to what is possible. While kids have little life experience, they also live a world where new things are always popping up. Anything can happen at any time which is easy to see when they tell stories. In the case of poor Jonah, obstacles that I could never have imagined kept popping up. I almost felt bad for the character after what Leah and Kenny put him through during his quest. Had I had to live through such trials, I probably would have given up at the Forest of Darkness and its ever shifting pathways.
Leah and Kenny have an awesome gift for stories. All kids have a way with words and just need to be given the chance to share their stories with someone. If that isn’t enough to convince you to get the kids in your life writing, it might also help to know that writing has been proven to help with literacy. It allows kids to work with the language in more than one way because they both reading and writing when they tell stories and write them down, but I think that’s just a side benefit. My favorite part is watching their brains in action, creating incredibly stories out of thin air.
So, how about you? Have you heard a particularly excellent story from a future C.S. Lewis or Lois Lowry? Do you delight in the stories from a tiny tale teller?