I just finished writing a middle school grade novel tentatively titled Lies My Best Friend Told Me and sent it off to an agent. I have the expected postpartum pangs, but I’ve told myself I’m not done with writing for children. I’ll never be done. Children’s literature has always made my heart sing, and probably always will—even if I live to be as old as my mother did. For me, growing up, which seems to have taken my whole adult life, has meant reaching down to the first books I loved as a child. Or maybe learning to re-love children’s books has meant learning to respect the child in me. I graduated college with the usual delusion that I was finished with all this childish stuff. Parenthood provided my excuse for a return to reading the books of my childhood to my children. And I reveled in it—this getting to reread to my children books I’d loved such as Winnie the Poo and Peter Pan. And my small subjects had no choice. They had to listen to their mommy’s melodramatic readings. My choice of books may have been fantasies, but they were real, too. Once, after having read the latter to my oldest son at bedtime, I snuck back to his room. “Psst,” I hissed from the doorway, “I’m Tinkerbell, and I’m here to teach you to fly so you can come with me to Never Never Land.” He bolted up then saw it was me. I never figured out if the look he gave me was one of embarrassment that he’d fallen for my ruse or simple disappointment that he wasn’t going to take off for this magical land.
Of course, there was a whole new generation of writers who had published sinceI’d been a child which I got introduced to as a parent. Although Dr. Seuss might have been around when I was small, he didn’t really become famous until I was in my last years of elementary school, too late for me to have read him then. So I introduced him to my children and read him I did, getting almost physical pleasure from Seuss’s rhyme and meter. “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant/ An elephant's faithful one hundred percent,” I must have almost shouted that and other of his delightful refrains.
Are you ever too old for a children’s book? Not if you don’t forbid that part of yourself to continue to grow and flourish. I found that as an adult reader of children’s books, I had much the same taste as I had as a child. For example, as a nine- year-old, I had loved the largely realistic and humorous books of Beverly Cleary. As an adult reader of children’s books, I gravitated to the same. When a friend who had an older child told me about a hysterical book for children by Judy Blume entitled Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, I couldn’t wait to read it to my five-year-old son. I’m afraid I found the antics of Fudge far funnier than my kindergartener did. I learned then that if I wanted to read a children’s book, to go ahead and read it myself rather than impose it on my son before he was ready.