Friday, February 6, 2009

As Ursula Nordstrom Said, "No, I Don't Have Any Children. But I Was a Child, and I Haven't Forgotten a Thing."

In Fear and Loathing in Children's Books you made a comment about writing for the group you identify most with, and the need to recognize where that is as quickly as possible. Could you expand on that? And what about people who write for more than one age (especially as their children pass through those ages they're writing for)? Is that an example of reading producing like? (Assuming here the writer is reading to his/her children.)
Some authors seem to have a fairly specific internal age; very likely it's the age they remember best from their own childhoods. When they write for this age, it sounds right; it feels right. Their characters' thoughts and speech and action feel inimitably their own, which comes both from the author's deep empathetic connection to the characters, and from the respect that empathy engenders.

There are other authors who seem to have vivid memories of a great deal of their childhoods, and can write empathetically and respectfully for a wide range of ages.

And then there are authors who, no matter how much they love their own children, cannot truly remember what it was like to be a child at all, and so should not be writing for children. This state leads to the earnest, kind, well-intentioned, and utterly disrespectful talking at children rather than to them.


People who remember childhood well not only remember how they thought and felt at a particular age; they know that in a profound way, children and adults are equals.

Because we are all equally human.

16 comments:

Deirdre Mundy said...

Wait.... you mean humanity isn't dependent on height?

So I can't push people around anymore just because they're a bit shorter???

Shoot. now what am I going to do for fun????

Chris Eldin said...

This is the second time today I see Ursula Nordstrom's name.

Your post is thought-provoking to me because I personally feel drawn to ages 10 and 11. I may have to find a therapist and explore this..
:-)

Seriously though, I don't think I could write YA. I love MG and feel it's home.

Kimber An said...

"This state leads to the earnest, kind, well-intentioned, and utterly disrespectful talking at children rather than to them.

People who remember childhood well not only remember how they thought and felt at a particular age; they know that in a profound way, children and adults are equals.

Because we are all equally human."

Agreed, but I've learned to take it one step further. Adults with genuine empathy for children do not talk at or even to children. They talk WITH children, even when they're babies and haven't yet learned to speak English, or whatever their parents' language is.

nocheerios said...

"There are other authors who seem to have vivid memories of a great deal of their childhoods, and can write empathetically and respectfully for a wide range of ages."

This is fascinating to me. I feel comfortable writing for all ages except teens. Why? The only reason I can think of is that I had zero interest in reading teen books as a teen. I read regular grownup books.

Hmm. Something to ponder.

Criss said...

(Assuming here the writer is reading to his/her children.)

I apologize, but the teacher in me just had a massive coronary. What kind of writer would NOT be constantly reading to his/her children??? What kind of parent would not be reading to his/her children?

Why would you feel the need to point out permission for this "assumption"? Why in 'tarnation is this not a given??

Laurel said...

Good to have you back!!

Anonymous said...

Love this post EA :) I wish that more people who 'want' to write for children thought about this.

emcguire said...

Last year I interviewed Lisbeth Zwerger about her approach to picture book illustration, and she made a very similar point. Both the writing and the imagery should have a level of respect for the audience. And no one in the field should forget how hard it was to be a kid.

Word said...

So true...so true...

Heck...I'll go so far as to say that there is a big part of me that still IS a kid. AND...I'm not even a man (hee hee).

acpaul said...

What I remember the most about childhood was that I didn't fit in with my peers at all. Ever.

So I should probably give up my thoughts of writing children's lit and stick to SF&F.

ae said...

I love you, EA. :)

Jo said...

Good to hear your thoughts, as I am wanting to write a YA after writing middle-grade. Not a huge jump but definitely different.

Nancy Coffelt said...

Great post.

I was at a school visit today and at author's lunch was so happy to hear the feedback from across the age abyss. :)
The good news: most of us are afraid of bees.

The bad news: Everyone wants to somehow be cool.

We all worry what other people think about us - but the best part?
And we all agreed that is was pretty hideous to have your pug dog planting its curly tail (and butt) on your forehead when you're trying to sleep.

Another thought:reminding ourselves (NOT remembering) that these themes of grossness, dread and the promise of transcendence are not only an escape of the daily trudge but a portal to something more which is - um, pretty cool.

Judy said...

I am one of those people who do not remember much of my childhood, but have identified with the situations of kids I have observed and taught in schools more. Does that make me a not-so-good writer? Or can I write successfully because I DO see kids as equals, even from a very young age?

Does it really make a difference that I can't remember?

Editorial Anonymous said...

Maybe not, Judy. As long as there's no temptation to talk down to your audience, you might be just fine.

But lots of well-meaning people don't seem able to tell when they're talking to kids as equals and when they're not. If you've examined your own attitudes/motives and feel sure you're offering your child audience the same respect you'd offer an adult audience, then I expect you're on the right track.

Liana Brooks said...

I'm with acpaul, what I remember from childhood was trying to convert my bedroom to a space ship, reading up on NASA, and occasionally trying to slaughter imaginary orcs with a stick.

I do enjoy MG books with more adult heroes, twisted fairy tales or historical novels like Catherine Called Birdie, or Sarah Bishop.

I'm guessing I'm one of the unqualified to write children's books unless we're talking a non-fic book about fish or science.