The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man.
~ C.S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”
I have sometimes wondered whether writing for children might be more difficult than writing for adults. When it comes to a story, children either like it or they do not. They do not evaluate the author’s diction, or depth of characterization, or thematic complexity, they simply respond. Childlike discernment is unrefined (although not necessarily inaccurate). The most successful children’s stories are among some of the best stories I have read, even as an adult, and often they have as much or more power than some of the best adult literature. For one thing, they seem to have more clarity and focus. The author has to know exactly what his story is and how he wants to say it.
[The format of children’s literature] compels you to throw all the force of the book into what was done and said. It checks what a kind, but discerning critic called ‘the expository demon’ in me. It also imposes certain very fruitful necessities about length.
Among picture books I read as a child that I still now enjoy, there are Moonhorse by Mary Pope Osborne, and Something from Nothing and Grandma and the Pirates by Phoebe Gilman (the latter rather silly, in a good way). Among so-called “young adult” fiction, there are the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeline L’Engle, the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, Perloo the Bold by Avi, Kävik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, and perhaps the whole collected works of Beverly Cleary. Not to mention a host of illustrated retellings of myths, legends, and classic literature for children, such as Saint George and the Dragon retold by Margaret Hodges, with art by Trina Schart Hyman, and the beautiful adaptation of George MacDonald’s Little Daylight that was one of the first true fairy stories I remember reading. And also, of course, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Continue reading “C.S. Lewis talks about how to write for children”