Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


l i t t l e n e w p o t a t o e s

“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be… This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages…the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide… Far too many people misunderstand what ‘putting away childish things’ means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I’m with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don’t ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and ‘be’ fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

For the next cycle of posts each of us will reach back to some of our earliest memories for inspiration.


Happy Spring

When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you have to think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world, in acknowledgement of the gift you have been given, which is the life itself.

And I think the world tends to forget that this is the ultimate significance of the body of work each artist produces.

It is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life.

Stanley Kunitz

Thank you, Mr. Kunitz. 


The Power of Play
I am rereading a small classic book that I recommend to my students at The Writer’s Loft. It was written in the 1930’s by Dorethea Brande. The title is On Becoming a Writer; John Gardener offers the introduction to the book. It is a book that belies its age and gives testimony to the staying power of its message. A marked component of Becoming a Writer addresses how our creative lives need the time and space to play.
As synchronicity might have it, I discovered a talk by a psychiatrist, Dr. Stuart Brown, who studies about and believes in play. In fact, he leads the National Institute of Play and claims that play is inherent to human health, well being, and survival. He suggests that the opposite of play is depression. In the studies he has conducted the right hemisphere of the human brain lights up when we play.
When I am writing and creating my right brain lights up. I can feel it in my focus and energy and enthusiasm and desire. Writing stories becomes a form of play, an active engagement in make believe, and learning new things and I enter into the domain of the creative, the imaginal.
Play is my favorite word.


Stewing on the Writing Process

I just came from a talk given by Jane Yolen titled: "Loving the Lyric Line", at the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota. It was in the middle of the day. It was free. I could take an hour off from my studio. Why not go? She is a lovely reader of poetry, her own and others. She even sang a poem she had written to music in the third grade which shows how connected children's authors are to their childhood selves, even at seventy. When asked about her writing habits, (having published over 300 books- what is her secret?), she simply said: BIC, which stands for Butt in Chair. Beginning after tea and breakfast in the morning, she sits with her laptop and writes everyday, the stories and characters pouring forth. All of the workshops and books on writing state the same thing- Butt in chair-- meet the pen and paper everyday and they will meet you. 

But, I was recently in the company of another prolific and profound writer of poems, stories, and novels while I was in Portland and when I asked if she was working on anything, she smiled and said she did not "work" on things. In fact, she said, she rarely sat down to write on a regular basis. Mostly she just lives her life and when something arrives that needs to be written down, it pours out and that is that. Back to life. 

A friend of mine who has published many books just wrote to me and said she is stuck. Utterly stopped up and fears she may never write again. I have none of the same fears for her. I know stories will come to her-- she is a beautiful storyteller. But it all seems to be in the process. One's own. Everyone has to find their own writing process and learn to trust it. 

Since I have mostly been a translator of stories through pictures, I try on many different hats when it comes to the writing process. Sometimes for many weeks I arrive early every morning to write for three hours, then all will stop. Sometimes months go by and all I have written is a daily journal entry everyday or every scattered days. I can become quite filled with angst at this point, but I tell myself to breath and notice what I am doing or not doing. It is me learning my process. I think I am a "pour forth" kind of writer with a lot of life in-between. I think my process is like a pot on the back burner. I have cut the potatoes and dropped them in the pot. Other ideas come in the form of carrots and garlic, tomatoes and parsley. It simmers on the back burner for days, months, even years! And suddenly it is ready and pours forth. I have no idea how it will taste, but hopefully I will have pen and bowl ready to catch the waterfall! With spring springing, I have high hopes that my winter stews are almost done!


A New Generation of Readers

The picture at left is from a couple years ago. Our son Ben, who is now six, was at the stage when he “read” books by looking at the pictures and making up his own plot. Each night after brushing his teeth and picking a book for Mommy or Daddy to read to him, he would ask, “Can I stay up for awhile and read by myself?”

The answer, of course, was invariably, “Yes, you can.”

One night, when I went in later to turn out his bedroom light, I had to chuckle at the sight of Ben asleep with his book still propped up on his chest. So Daddy wasn’t the only one who did that!!

Now that Ben is in first grade and can read by himself, he will take a book with him even if we are just running down to the store for some milk; he reads aloud during the drive, spelling out the words he doesn’t yet know. Longer outings require much debate about which books will make “the cut” and come with him. For summer sailing ventures, which can last weeks at a time, the process is even more torturous. After all, Mommy and Daddy need space for their books, too….

And so rest assured that a new generation of readers will enjoy the great works of my fellow potatoes. If that isn’t cause for celebration (and inspiration), I don’t know what is.


The Signs of a Good Book

In reorganizing my bookcases this morning, I came upon a book that practically fell apart in my hands (in spite of the many layers of tape along its spine). Its name is Poems to Read to the Very Young, and I imagine that it was read to me, and by me, when I was once very young.

While it is hard to remember where I put my car keys and sunglasses, I can easily remember poor Jonathan Bing and his ill-fated visit to the king. And my favorite, "five minutes, five minutes more, please!," to be said at bedtime every night as one is being carted off past the older siblings, who get to stay up 'til nine!

These poems clicked. They were fluid and logical and silly all at the same time. And they are as true today as they were a good many years ago.

So, fellow potatoes, take no offense when I say that I hope all your books end up with tape down their spines and dog-eared pages. It means that they were read, and read, and read. And who can ask for more than that?


Carmen and Lauren Potato

A week ago today, Carmen "Potato" and I had the pleasure of meeting in Portland, OR. for the first time! We had a wonderful breakfast together and if this delicious taste of one potato is indicative of what the rest of you are like, I cannot wait for all of us to meet in person! Carmen's new book, Diego, is a feast for the eyes and the words are beautiful! She gave me a copy, not even knowing it was my birthday! My favorite present! 
I loved Portland. I was there looking at colleges with my daughter, Ruby. She loved Lewis & Clark especially, thus I am hoping in a year to be able to visit Carmen again! In the mean time, let us begin to find a place for all of us to meet!