Monday, July 7, 2014

A childless author of books for children by Leanne Willetts

(me, when I was in university)

I wrote this response to Rumer Godwin's article (A Little Tale That Anyone Could Write) on October 26, 1987 for a children's literature course I took through the University of Winnipeg. 

I did not read this article against the grain. Far from it. I felt Rumer Godwin was writing directly to me.

In class we have discussed how tales can mean different things to different people due to the different lessons experience teaches. Perhaps this is why when Godwin writes of his experiences as a non-father writer, he writes to me of my experience as a non-mother child care worker.

My closest friends in the class are mothers. They have personally gone through the perils and pleasures of parenthood. They earned their stripes on the battle lines. I can not claim this experience.

Sometimes in the deepest darkest depths of night I lie awake worrying:  how can I claim to be a child care worker without a child? Godwin addresses these worries. He says he came to the writing discipline out of love for it 'and not because I had acquired children of my own and started to tell them stories. I know this is a more common reason, but I don't believe it is a good one, nor is it one that often meets with success. This lack of success is puzzling, but perhaps it is because one's own children are not really a reliable measure. They speak the same, sometimes intimate, family language...
Being a parent, even a writer-parent, is no qualification for writing children's book; it needs a stronger spring, a greater impetus than that. Without that spring no one can become a children's writer.'

Ask a child care worker what makes a good child care worker and the answer is likely to closely reassemble the above. 

Having a child does not necessarily equip you to care for someone else's children. Non-mothers and mothers alike who enjoy children have something special to share.

Godwin continues with his article by saying:  'I believe, too, that there are musts for children's books. Please remember, it is only what I believe. Another writer will think quite differently, for each is a law unto himself, and when I write must, I mean must for me.' Godwin is able to see how others could disagree with him. He does not imply the inclusive all but rather allows for disagreement by stating I. Godwin's attitude makes it easier to learn. We are not irritated by his whitewashing but rather intrigued by his views. (Professors comment:  Good point. I think you're right that this is often the effect of a first-person pronoun.) His views are intriguing indeed. They helped me to come to a clearer understanding as to what I value in children's literature. He writes:  'I...believe a book for children should be unconsciously ethical. Not consciously so, because then it becomes something verging on propaganda or that horror of Victorian nurseries, "a book with a moral," or, of our own time, "a book with a message". But it should be freshly and clearly sure so what is right and wrong; cynicism should not touch children's books, as it so firmly governs our own.
Life, most people tell us, is cynical. I believe, rather, that is is paradoxical. Perhaps what is wrong with so many of our lives now is that they have lost the fairy-tale element:  that belief in life, in its transcendental quality; a belief in more than seems possible; a belief that holds good through rebuffs (there are always rebuffs in fairy tales)--because it is not bound by what we see and touch and hear.' Though I do wonder why a book with a message is black listed, I must state firmly that I strongly agree with the rest of his statement.

(Professor comment:  It's always gratifying to read something you can second heartily, but I suspect you would have gotten more mileage out of this article had you started with your query above and spent some time thinking about it.)

But if, unlike my professor, you are actually interested in this topic here's more...

5 Childless Children's Book Authors

Dr. Seuss Didn't Have Kids

Sharing my author journey...

This past week my husband was on holidays. It was wonderful to spend more time with him. But I did have to adapt. You see, my writing desk is in a shared space. My first thought was, I'll take the week off too. After all, I told myself, I've worked hard. In fact, I've completed many of the goals I wanted to accomplish this summer. And so I tried. But I missed my writing too much.
"I'll make adjustments so that we can share the space more effectively," my husband told me.
But the adjustments he'd have to have made would have severely limited the amount of fun he could have had. That didn't seem fair to me. So I told him not to and went to work finding a different solution.
Early on Monday morning, I woke fully rested and sat down at my writing desk. Well I felt inspired and my muse danced. In fact, I was able to complete two hours of work before my husband woke. It was the perfect solution and I continued to wake early all day last week.
This week things go back to normal--I will be the sole user of this space until 3 p.m. (And yet I woke early anyway : ) How do you know you love what you do?)
Happy writing...