Not Kidding Around

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a talk featuring none other than Natalie Babbit (Tuck Everlasting), Patricia Maclachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall), Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia), Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising), and M.T. Anderson (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing). They were at MIT to talk about working on the collaborative novel, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. If they all had their respective medals (Newbery and Printz…at least 1 one for each and assorted honors galore), the stage would have collapsed under the weight of all that hardware.

Natalie Babbitt said she sometimes was asked about her career choice, “Why don’t you do something serious?”

People, writing books for children is one of the most serious things you can do.

I swear I am not on Anita Silvey’s payroll. Yet I will again mention Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from a Children’s Book. Really awesome people with amazing accomplishments trace their success to the awesome and amazing lessons emanating from their childhood reading.

Literacy is a fundamental skill needed in all aspects of life – from reading labels at the grocery store to composing and understanding Facebook messages to running a Fortune 500 company. Ideally, literacy is taught in childhood. Weren’t you glad as a kid that someone – a parent/guardian, teacher, librarian, best friend – tried to show you still more excellent ways of developing that skill than just phonics readers and textbooks with fiction, biographies, comics – any story, really –the silly and the serious?

Yes, it may seem like a joke that certain celebrities are adding to their millions by writing really simple stories (to be fair, some are quite good!) and novelists scratch out livings writing about made-up things, while others work important jobs and deal with real things and get paid pittances. But that’s not the fault of the individuals, but the skewed way society values labor and laborers.

The best stories, the ones that make this job serious, build off of kernels of truth or expose truths. They offer hope. “Author” is not as serious in the way that “heart surgeon” is serious, but many a time, authors, too, stitch a kid’s “heart” back together.

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