Sunday, May 1, 2011
Believing the Children ...sometimes
Editors and agents often warn us children's writers not to put faith in the praise that our own children, grandchildren, and friends heap on our cherished writing efforts. The argument runs that they will love whatever we write. It's a good point and something we need to keep in mind. Although I understand the importance of these precautions, and would never mention the kids in a query letter or a pitch session, I wonder if there are also times when we would be wise to listen to the children.
The children I know best all have their own distinct preferences regarding reading material, as with everything else. As evidence of this discrimination, I have heard the following comments: "This one's not so good, Pe'pe'," or "It's ok, I guess," or, more happily, "Now that, Pe'pe', is a cool story." Sometimes these preferences are dictated by what they perceive to be cool among their peers, but just as often their choices are based on their own tastes and inclinations.
If one is writing for children it seems that some of the most important feedback will come from the kids, themselves. James Barrie was encouraged to write Peter Pan by the children of his dear friends, the Davies. Some of Francis Thompson's best poetry was inspired by the children of his close friends and patrons, the Meynells. A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh was named after a teddy bear belonging to his son Christopher Robin Milne, whose name and personality, as we know, was adopted by the other main character in those great stories. Lewis Carroll (George Dodgson) was reputedly begged by Alice Liddell, the daughter of close friends, to write down for her the story he had made up of Alice in Wonderland. Having written it down for her, he was later encouraged by the enthusiasm of the children of another friend, George MacDonald, to have the book published.
While these childhood preferences may, in some instances be idiosyncratic, there are also common themes. Luckily for us, these commonalities have been recognized by the best agents and editors, and have even been catalogued for us. See, for example, the blog by Laura Backes, http://tinyurl.com/667968w
If there is any truth in the maxim that our loved ones will love what we write, it may be because what we write for them is our best work. And, in the case of children, when it doesn't come up to our highest standards - or theirs - I have found that they are unflinching in their willingness to say so.
How about the children in your life? Do they tell you what they like?