I remember back when my grandmother was in her 80s she told me she didn’t necessarily feel older or even wiser than she’d ever been. She said that she still just felt like herself, same as she always was. As my mom has aged she’s expressed the same sentiment to me, almost surprised that her exterior doesn’t match her interior. And I find, now being firmly middle aged, that I too don’t feel “middle aged,” whatever that means.
So, what do I feel? Well, I know I have knowledge and wisdom that has come from my lived experiences, including being a parent (which is the most life-altering event that ever happened to me). But also I’ve been alive on the planet for over 50 years now, so I’ve read a shit ton of books, so there’s that. So, I guess I feel kind of different than when I was younger.
But basically, I just feel like myself. Because I’m not that different from the little girl who blurted out the answer in 3rd grade, when the teacher wouldn’t call on me, despite my insistently waving raised hand. And I’m not that different from the young girl who watched with envy as her best friend got her period and even better, got a first boyfriend, back in 7th grade. And also, I’m not that different from the teenaged girl who wrote angsty poetry, protested against nukes, and was known for her potty mouth and stances on social justice issues back in high school.
I know, you’re probably saying to yourself something like Thank you for sharing, Linda. What the fuck does that have to do with reading or writing?
Well, for people like us, who write for children, it’s important to stand in the places and embody the viewpoints of kids. I know as adults we sometimes might want to “teach a lesson” or write something that can be helpful or impactful for kids. That’s ok. But you have to ask yourself, If I were a kid, would I give a shit about reading this book? Speak to what kids are listening for, in words and stories that they can hear. Speak to the kid that you were.
A fantastic picture book that does that, crouching down to kid level, telling a story that includes things they care about, looking at the world through a child’s point of view, is IDA, ALWAYS, written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso. If you haven’t read this story about the polar bears in the Central Park Zoo, go read it right now. Both the story and the pictures are gorgeous and full of love and sadness and hope, and it feels so very true. It feels absolutely child-centric.
A wonderful middle grade book that speaks to kids in kid language is Sarah Weeks’ lovely PIE . One of the many things I appreciate about this book is its attention to the details that kids notice. And this story is all about details! Physical details and emotional details. Although the book takes a very long view, ending when the main character is an adult (which is unusual for a middle grade story), this story touched my inner 10-year old self absolutely. It also made me quite hungry for pie.
So, when you’re writing, whether it’s for a 4-year old or a 10-year old or a 16-year old, jump back into your 4-year old or 10-year old or 16-year old self. He’s still totally there. She’s still totally accessible. Eye to eye. On their level. Write your books to that self. Truly it’s the way your words and stories and ideas will speak to children’s hearts and minds.
I swear, some days I’m quite certain I’m still 11 or 17 and sometimes 5. At least on my inside. How old do you feel inside? Who do you write to?