It has been suggested by some that writing for kids should be easy, especially for the very young age group. However, they warn; “the key is to grab the child’s attention with the very first sentence; if you do not interest him from the get-go, he will quickly turn the page or worse, discard the book for a video game or the television.”
Looking through my own book shelf lined with childhood favorites, with that thought in mind, my eyes rest upon the blue and white copy of Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear. This particular edition was published in 1957 by Harper & Brothers (later changed to Harper & Row), with “pictures” by Maurice Sendak (not illustrated by– as it is described now), slightly yellowed, the cover- corners frayed and peeling, with a bit of wear along the spine.
As the first “ I CAN READ book”, and the first book in the Little Bear series, it remains one of my many favorite stories, despite its simplicity- both in plot and character names. Little Bear’s friends are simply called Hen, Duck and Cat, and his mother is referred to as “Mother Bear”, while he is known simply as “Little Bear”, and yet it is this very simplicity, in my view, that helped capitulate the story of Little Bear into one of the most beloved childhood story book characters of all time.
The relationship between Little Bear and his mother is loving and real and significant, a relationship perpetually sought after and cherished by children (and adults) of all ages. While Little Bear’s father is away most of the time as Captain of a great big old ship, the reader observes the closeness between mother and son and the many examples depicting the special bond they share and the lessons he learns.
Maryanne Wolf once said that “…childhood stories provide the foundation of the most important social, emotional, and cognitive skills a human being can learn: the ability to take on someone else’s perspective”.
Seemingly, despite that some say writing for children should be easy, I tend to think not.
It is at the tender young age of innocence, vulnerability and yearning that human beings decide who they would like to become, therefore; the task of writing for this very young audience entails introspective observations of ourselves and those around us- before any attempt should be made to weave messages or lessons into story- writing for children.
All one has to do is spend a quiet afternoon in the company of Minarik’s and Sendlak’s chubby, fur-coated Little Bear and his ever supportive Mother Bear to understand that “writing for kids” is not only NOT easy, but holds the potential to mold perspectives of who we are and who we can become long after our childhood is left behind us like footprints in the sand.
In childhood, stories share the promise of hope and the magic of believing that dreams truly can come true. For the child drowning in a sea of despair, or the child overwhelmed by fear or loss, or the child who feels abandoned or alone, or the child who simply feels confused or curious, the ability to take on someone else’s perspective has the power to save him, to transport him outside himself -even if just for a little while. Likewise,through stories- the child who easily laughs at jokes or recognizes that the sun will always reappear, or feels secure in his fortunate role as a child loved by two parents, -empathizes with the deprived or lonely child who fears someone or something, or has reason to feel sad or lost in a world a little too big and sometimes even too cold.
In my view, it can’t be easy to,- through writing, give a child that magical ability to become someone else when she most needs to escape her own reality, or to open her eyes to a world she never knew, or to place hope where there was only emptiness or longing before.
Taking on someone else’s perspective through stories allows for the young reader (or any reader for that matter) to find and create her own perspective -of who she feels she might be now and who she wants to become, and whether or not those two perspectives are in line with one another, or perhaps what is most important in her life and who she needs to become in order to attain that, even if it could mean realizing she is fine the way she is.
Surely, to be able to do all that through story- writing for children- can’t possibly be easy at all. And like anything else worth doing in life, it takes passion and hard work, but in the end the results are always worth it.