On children’s books

a boy reading a book
My son, book in hand (as usual).

I remember sneaking into the hall closet in our front entryway when I was maybe ten years old. My mom had this old wool trench coat with both collar and sleeves trimmed in fur. For some reason, I fixated on that coat. It seemed like the type of coat that one would find in The Wardrobe. You know the one I mean. The one that would take me to Narnia. So I’d close my eyes and reach out my hands in the dark, feeling for that fur and hoping that the next thing I’d touch would be fir of the evergreen variety.

I never made it to Narnia (if I had, I would have thwarted Aslan himself to remain there and wouldn’t be blogging now!), but that sliver of hope, no, that certainty that getting there was possible sticks with me almost thirty years later. And I have C.S. Lewis and my mom to thank for that. C.S. Lewis for writing The Chronicles of Narnia and my mom for never saying no when I asked to go to the library or asked for a book on our frequent trips to the bookstore.

Now, I have a unique opportunity to relive reading my favorite children’s books for the first time. And no, it’s not senility. It’s parenthood. Nature or nurture, I’m not sure which, provided me with two little ones who always have their nose in a book just like their mama (and their papa). So even as they choose today’s mega-hits like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dear Dumb Diary, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the American Girl series, I get to interject a few of my favorites.

Lily reminded me of the heartbreak in Black Beauty. Gabriel & I relived the devastation of losing Thorin Oakenshield together. And, most recently, I got to console my son when he awoke in the night convinced that he was Harry Potter, mumbling spells under his breath and rubbing the spot on his forehead where his painful scar ought to be. To regroup after the intensity of the Harry Potter series, I’ve turned him loose on My Side of the Mountain. So of course he’s planning to run off in the wilderness in search of a peregrine falcon and a hollow tree in which to live.

These stories are absolutely real for my children, just as they were for me when I was their age. So I didn’t have an answer ready when someone recently asked me why I was “just writing children’s books” instead of literary fiction. Sure, I love literary fiction as much as children’s books. I love words that have more business in adult fiction than in a novel for nine year olds. I would like nothing more than to some day write something that could be compared to the work of Barbara Kingsolver or Donna Tartt. But, as much as I loved their books, their words, and their stories, they never made me believe so utterly in a fantasy world that I went scrambling into a dark closet hoping to end up in Narnia.

I’m not saying I’ll ever write something as transporting as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Even my grandiose ego is not that overblown. I’m just saying that I consider it a lofty goal, a heady challenge, and something worthwhile. I hope C.S. Lewis got to see a child creep into a wardrobe at least once. I’m pretty sure life-affirming wouldn’t even begin to describe it.

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