Last week I had the good fortune to attend an incredible one day conference offered by the Illinois chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators—“Spring Thaw: Branch Out”. The presenters were Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser, original founders of the SCBWI. Of the many pearls of wisdom and insightful tips and practical knowledge given out to those sharing the room, one particular point keeps entering my writing thoughts—number seven of Lin Oliver’s “Best of the Best Advice in Writing for Children: a Baker’s Dozen (or Fourteen)”
7. Be emotional but not sentimental. Don’t reminisce. Give them childhood re-experienced—not recollected.
Then Lin went on to speak of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” How it was rough and tough and REAL. Max was a bad boy. He never apologized to his mother for his behavior. And his mother…she sent him to bed without any supper! Very cruel and non-PC. I mean—depriving your child of food as a punishment? Doesn’t really make for a cozy bedtime story, does it?
Lin’s words keep ringing and resonating inside of me. I can’t stop thinking of that glorious, enduring, true book! It has been a favorite in my house and—I dare say—millions of others since its first publication in 1963. That is what I want to write—what all writers should aspire to—not simpering prose that makes us smile and say “Awww…”, but true words that reach underneath the ribcage and grasp the heart with a desperate fist causing us to gasp for air as we recognize the veracity of the tale being told. Yes! Yes, this is emotional fact. This is story anchored in reality.
Thank you, Mr. Sendak. We will miss you.
I’ll leave you with Maurice Sendak’s own words from a 2011 interview on NPR:
“There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”