Reflections on Writing for Children

When I was as young as six or seven years old, I would go into my room, lie on a pink fluffy rug, and with pens and pencils and stacks of paper in hand, I would write the greatest children’s story ever written. I wrote poems, about the color pink, adventures of a girl who discovered a world behind a bookcase, toys that talked, and a little family called the Tootles. I would spend hours writing. I loved every minute of it. Time stood still as I was not aware of it. I had literally climbed into another world. The stories I invented after experiencing and loving other stories, brought me to a wonderful place of goodness, creativity, and fun. Time was only interrupted when my two “charming” brothers as they liked to call themselves, would barge in grab my work of art from my hand and make fun of my writing. Little did I know that was what the real world of  being published would be like.

  I moved from that to third grade creative writing class. Where Mrs. B had the best writing topics for us each Wednesday.  I still have those stories. They are yellow and need to be in sheet protectors. But Mrs. B’s red pen comments say things like – very nice description or Very good writing. Her positive endorsement was a true sign that I was going to be a writer someday.

My first “ready for submission” story  was written back in college. It was called One, Two, Three, Bread Magic. Some of you readers out there have read it. All the labor of the “first edition” was so enjoyable. Seeking out a publisher wasn’t so much. Having someone from my critique group rip it to shreds wasn’t so much either. Since then I have hidden in a world several times where I felt freedom to write from my schema. I have to admit the stories got much better since the Bread Magic One.

Just as I am known as teacher, mom and wife, I also like to be known as writer of  childern’s stories. Yet I am not published. I have made submissions to several publishers. But I have several rejections. Not as many as Madeline L’Engle- who said she had been rejected at least 50 times before her award winning Wrinkle in Time was published or accepted into the reading world.  I am near halfway there in my collection of rejections.

The world is changing and I am ever so mindful of it. The media influence, the fast pace, the sensory overload, the lack of play and imagination, all influence my thinking of what would kinds of stories would be likable to a child. Would a reader in third grade read my TV Bug  and learn a  lesson? Would a first grade think my Custodian and the Ducklings was funny? Would someone cry or feel a  heart tug when they read Grandmother’s Melody? I want to hope so but my qualm is that these kinds of stories are dear only those in the Dinosaur Circle.

Dinosaurs are not just those who feel so ancient because they can remember back when dirt was invented and how they used to wear fig leaves.  They are those that feel in the minority almost to the point of being endangered. In a writer’s circle it is those who just appreciate a rich story told.  I do feel a part of this dinosaur circle when it comes to writing for children. I tend to take time to go “deep” when I write, Let my heart ache a little, and labor. The words flow but I get stuck. So it is easy but hard. I want to tell the story just right. Its gotta be rich with words not fluffy and trite. Getting a good story out there in the world – on paper, does have it satisfaction. It’s like a captured memory forever there. If someone else could be touched in some way by the story that too is satisfying.  The recognition through publication would be an added bonus. But also the idea that many could appreciate it would be an accomplishment simply for making some difference in this troublesome world.

I won’t put myself in the shoes of a children’s literature critic and analyze the low quality of  some recently published stories. But it is extremely frustrating that the books that sell are those that have a gimmick attached. The kind that go with a movie, a television show, rock song, a toy,- a book that says to the child- gimme that one as they go through the phase of princesses or Transformers. And those gimmick stories do not last the test of time. The next year there is a new trend and a new kind of gimme. There’s also the stories written by celebrities. You don’t have to be a writer to be published if you are a celebrity.  Some of  those stories seem “cute” and even heart warming. But well written and quality? A memorable story that stays with you forever? Maybe if it was personally autographed.

I do weigh my stories against those I admire. Oh the richness of stories like Chrysantheum or anything Kevin Henkes. Thundercake or Fireflies in  jar or anything Patricia Pollaco. A true story teller that woman! What about Jenelle Cannon who makes the ugly things of this world so beautiful with her rich language. Stellaluna- Crickwig- Verde. Oh to be accepted and remembered  as they are!
There are classics that I remember as read aloud experiences that have influenced me as I longed to write. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Bread and Jam for Frances, Harry the Dirty Dog, One Fine Day, The Little Engine that Could. – are some. This is my world of story that I draw from in order to write.

And as a teacher, I need those good mentor texts. I want my work to be just that. One that could be a good example of some trait of writing that needs to be taught. One that can be used to teach a great reading strategy and aide in comprehension. I want my story to be needed in the learning and development in the child’s reading and writing. Debbie Miller, a reading guru, and Katie Wood Ray, a teaching writing to children guru, both say how important it is for us as teachers to introduce the kids to quality literature. Our validation speaks well and has an influence. Pretty much if my work was endorsed by either of those – I could be all set with my dream.

It has been awhile since I have sat down and actually written a new story. It may be about time. I will get to it when I do have the time.  But what to do with all the others that have been written and are sitting, resting, and collecting dust.

Thanks for reading this writing.

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