“I don’t believe that I have ever written a children’s book,” Maurice Sendak once said. “I don’t write for children. I write–and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!'”
Madeleine L’Engle said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
J R R Tolkein agreed that there was no such thing as writing “for children.” (In his lecture on Fairy Stories.)
What are they getting at?
There is a disturbing, patronizing dumbing down that happens in so many bad children’s books.
People often think it’s easy to write a picture book. The truth is: it’s easy to write a bad picture book.
Why do we think it’s easy to write for children? I think it’s because we don’t have a high enough view of children. And we don’t have a high enough view of story. A poorly written children’s book shows a lack of respect for children. Poorly-written books insult and demean to children. A great children’s book writes up for children never down.
Astrid Lindgren said: “I don’t want to write for adults. I want to write for readers who can perform miracles. Only children perform miracles when they read.”
Only a high view of children and a deep respect for them will produce work worthy of them.
Roald Dahl, who wrote novels for adults at the start of his career, said:
“I’m probably more pleased with my children’s books than with my adult short stories. Children’s books are harder to write. It’s tougher to keep a child interested because a child doesn’t have the concentration of an adult. The child knows the television is in the next room. It’s tough to hold a child, but it’s a lovely thing to try to do.”
Mark Haddon: “books for children are as complex as their adult counterparts, and they should therefore be accorded the same respect.”
And of course, the same is true of the children who read them.