“There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.”
This sweet passage is from “The Land of Story-Books,” a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. I love it because it reminds me of reading under the covers at night when I was a kid. Did you ever do that?
Even today, I have a sampling of children’s books on my shelves in my office. I have my beloved sister Judy’s dog-eared copies of Winnie the Pooh and Now we are Six by A.A. Milne, which our darling mother, Dorothy, read to us as kids. I also have a copy of Peter Pan, which I enjoy dipping into.
A friend of mine had a professor who told his students that whenever they needed to learn about a topic they were unfamiliar with, the best first step would be to go to a children’s library and borrow some kids’ books about it. If they were well written, the books would distill a lot of information in a concise format and also highlight the fundamental themes or facts at the heart of the subject. Something to think about!
For me reading children’s poetry or pouring myself into the fantasy world of Peter Pan can be a powerful way to get back touch with my own sense of wonder and playfulness. It also reminds me how simple words, simply expressed, can reveal whole kingdoms.
So often we hunger to be clever and artful in our writing. The result can be artificial and strained. We forget that complex ideas simply expressed are the essence of wonderful writing. That’s one reason it can be so refreshing and energizing to take a peek at a classic children’s book or poem—something that’s still being read by kids today. It’s a reminder that you can express huge universal themes: love, loss, joy, and pain in amazingly straightforward and direct ways that move and engage your readers.
How about you? What are your favorite children’s stories? The ones that you once found entrancing as a child? Why not pull one or two out and revisit them with an eye toward writing dangerously?