Friday, May 17, 2013

For the Kids

 Susan E. Goodman shared a wonderful tribute to mothers recently, and the coincidence of my youngest son’s upcoming college graduation inspires me to add a note of recognition for children.
Whenever I do a school visit, I include a brief introduction about myself. “Here’s me in fourth grade,” I say, soon after the session begins. “If you’d asked me then what I wanted to be when I grew up, the first thing I’d have said was, ‘I want to be a children’s book author.’” It made perfect sense. I loved books. I loved to write. Why not write books for kids? Case closed.

And yet, I tell the school children, I didn’t immediately become a children’s book author when I grew up. Instead I turned, upon finishing college, to what I call “more practical writing,” and then I describe the work I did for ten years with the marketing of books, academic public relations, and the editing of an alumni magazine.

“It was only when I took a break to have kids,” I tell my audience, “that I reconnected with that childhood idea to write for young people.” So I have an easy answer when kids ask, “What made you want to become a children’s book author?”—“My kids,” I reply. Then I show a childhood photo of Sam and Jake “reading” Winnie the Pooh together. Hearts melt.

What came next, I tell the students, is the birth of my writing career. “While I watched my kids grow up, they watched my career grow. Now they’re in middle school/high school/college (fill in the blank depending on what year I’ve been speaking), and I’ve published seven/eight/nine books (add corresponding number of titles).”

Then I show a photo of my two sons at their present ages, contrasted with the photo of them as young children. Kids eat it up, of course, because they can see themselves in such a narrative, and I never tire of telling this story about my life and the lives of my sons.

Sam, Class of 2011, now with City Year
Jake, Class of 2013, Pitzer College
Silly me.

When I first became a children’s author, I thought that my story was unique. Now I’ve met and heard about dozens of authors who were inspired to write because of the children in their lives. Their own kids. Their grandkids. The children they teach. The children who visit the libraries where they work. The 10-year-old child embedded in their own hearts. You know what I’m talking about!

Yet here we are, writing away for the archetypal young while our own original sources of inspiration grow toward adulthood and beyond. This Saturday my youngest son graduates from college, and the narrative of my school visits will have to be updated again. From cuddly boys to grown men. There’s a tale to celebrate!

So it’s no wonder I’m drawn to visit schools, and you may be, too, for the same reason. Instantly we are surrounded by the little people who remind us why we write.
Yes, it helps that our work can pay the bills, and yes, we write because we were meant to be writers, but we write for young people because, at the heart of it, we care about their future. If we can just give them good stories, good history, good science, inspiring knowledge, we will have, we hope, made a difference.

I always say that being a parent was and is the best job I’ve ever had. Probably the hardest, too, but by far the most rewarding. Writing for young people is a very close second! Like parenting, it is a labor of love, born of the idea of passing on the joy of life to the youngest among us.

Thanks, Jake and Sam, for inspiring me to be a better parent and a better writer. While I'm at it, I commend my fellow authors for writing and sharing your hearts and minds through your own works, and we all thank those in the wider publishing community who connect our creations with those smaller hands across the land. All are causes for celebration!


Alicia said...

Loved this article! Makes me feel like someone else has blazed a trail for me as I start my writing first two books are due out in the next year or two and my kids are in elementary and middle school.

Jennifer Emmett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer Emmett said...

No better source of inspiration! Thanks for the great insights, Ann.