I’m not a children’s writer, but I am a writer and the mother of a small child, and so my world has been filled with children’s books for the last many years. From the beginning, I’ve loved reading with my daughter – because of the intimacy, because of how much she enjoys it, because of my interest in stories in general. But also because the books open a window on to childhood, and give me new ways of considering my own work. Though written for adults, each of my novels has featured children among the main characters, and I am always intrigued by the child as narrator, protagonist, and, of course, listener.
I’m not always the reader in this house. Sometimes I eavesdrop when my husband reads aloud, and increasingly, the smallest among us can figure out the words on her own. Sometimes we even sit side by side with our individual books open, together but separate, too, as we turn the pages.
I’ve often thought that if I could take time away to study anything, it would be children’s literature. And in a sense I guess I am studying it, as my daughter moves through the years reading new books and classics alike. I can see how the stories help broaden her perspective, and give her new puzzles to solve, or at least contemplate, about the real world. And I remember my own early days of reading — the small green stools at the library, placed around child-sized tables. Shelf after shelf of books, about endless numbers of things. I loved the way the children’s section looked down on the wide open main floor, where grown-ups sat on couches reading newspapers and magazines, close by but a world away.
The stories we read together at our house have come up now and again on this blog – Frog and Toad, The BFG, The Secret Garden – and it always occurs to me that there is so much more to say about these books and the people who created them — Roald Dahl was a Wing Commander in WW2, learned Norwegian myths from his mother, and wrote macabre short stories for adults as well as his kids’ books; Frances Hodgson Burnett grew up in a Manchester slum — she later supported her siblings with her writing income, and divorced two husbands in a span of four years.
I’ve decided to make a shift in the next while, and start a series of meandering posts on children’s books and their authors, and the kinds of things that come up when we share stories in our house. (For instance “Pooh,” here, is pronounced “Poo-huh,” by someone who is busy discovering the many surprises of the English language.) I hope this series will still give me the freedom to muse about Vincent van Gogh and Charles Darwin, or maybe A. A. Milne and L. M. Montgomery. However things unfold, I’m looking forward to charting our progress through stories, and to hearing what others think about the many subjects we’ll touch on.
So if you know some fans of great children’s literature, or parents who might like to follow along on our journey, please pass on the link. And think back on your own childhood – what were your favourite books, and why?