Monday, October 21, 2013

On Writing For Children

“That is the one eternal education: to be sure enough that something is true that you dare to tell it to a child.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

In creating any form of art we run a terrible risk: that someone will believe what we say. 
Music, movies, books, paintings, photography, all say something about how we see the world. They reveal our inward compasses in a way that we could never express intentionally. And in the same subconscious way, we influence the inward compasses of others.
Whether we write a dictionary, an article, or a children's story, we are influencing the way people think and believe. Sometimes we don't know it, but we are making an eternal difference, for good or evil, in someone's life. 

Stories that children are going to read are perhaps the most important to be careful about. I don't mean that stories for children should skirt the difficult subjects. It's not so much what is written as how. I can't tell you how many times I have read a book I loved as a child and have realized something that went completely over my head when I was eight was actually something deep, dark, and difficult. Often the parts I found uninteresting, or just didn't like, are the parts that speak to me the most now. Whether I liked the book or not, the way in which things were written about, the way the author treated subjects, the world view they embraced or the attitudes they eschewed, have shaped me and who I am. 

After reading Little House on the Prairie, I played "going west in a wagon train" and valued ingenuity and hardiness. Make Way For Ducklings taught me about family and the kindness of strangers. Katy and the Big Snow said that quiet, unassuming hard work, perseverance, and dependability could save lives. 
My parents were very careful about what we read, especially when I was younger. As I got older they let me make my own choices, since I was reading faster than they could keep up with, but by that time they were confident that I could recognize the moral compass of a book and use my own judgement. 
Several years ago I read a story about Cleopatra. When I got to the end and read the epilogue I was shocked and saddened to find that she grew up to have affairs with multiple men and went on to commit suicide. In the book they treated it like a historical event that was perfectly normal, but I knew from what I had been taught that it was sinful, and a tragedy. The incongruity between what I knew to be true and the book's attitude towards Cleopatra's adulthood disturbed me and I developed the habit of checking the epilogue on books that I wasn't sure about, to see if I wanted to give them my mind and emotions for several hours. Because my parents were careful about what I read as a child, I was able to be careful for myself as I got older. They knew that I would absorb something of the author's worldview.

Children are books themselves, in which everything they see is written. They assimilate everything around them without effort and without realizing it. To be an adult around children is a tremendous responsibility. To be the one who answers the questions they ask is an even greater responsibility.
When writing for anyone, but especially for children, I want to be sure that I am supporting truth. I want to be sure that their impressionable minds will be led towards the Light. I want to be sure that what I say is true, because I am daring to tell children. Because they will believe me.