In the Beginning...
If you had asked me way back in the early days when I was writing the first draft of my first novel Mother's Nature, if I could imagine myself writing for children, I would have looked at you in horror. One of the reasons I write is for escape. At the time, I was surrounded by three young children all day, every day. Why on Earth would I write for them? Why would I want to spend my spare time crafting elementary stories with three-word sentences? No. I wanted to write about adult things, for adult readers.
I always considered myself a serious writer, which in my mind, couldn't coincide with children's literature. I am not a comedy writer, or a romance writer, or even a horror writer. The stories I create are laced with dark undertones, if not overtly dark themes. Even my poetry tends toward more mature themes most of the time.
Before entering college, I had narrowed my choices to a Creative Writing program, an English teacher program, or a Medical Technology program. In the end, the choice was heartbreaking, but easy.
Although I dreamed of becoming a novelist, I craved financial security, which I knew I wouldn't obtain through a creative writing track. This was the late 80's early 90's and I was no "go-getter". So I was left with the option of becoming either an English teacher or an MT.
At the time, the thought of teaching children gave me nightmares. I was not that kind of person. No one would consider me sweet, or nice, and definitely not nurturing. I couldn't imagine putting on a smile for little kids every day, let alone being patient with them. Ugh. So NOT me.
So I waved goodbye to my novelist dreams and became a Medical Technologist for a living. I enjoyed it a lot. It fed my interest in all things medical and biological, which later helped my writing, and it gave me a a steady income. No regrets.
My children grew older. I began volunteering at the school library. I learned to interact with other people's children in an honest and tolerable way which I began to actually, sort of, kind of...enjoy. Eventually, I realized that I really loved it. When the Library Assistant announced her retirement and her position opened up. I thought "Why not?"
I took some online classes to get my Information Library Science certificate, applied for the position, and began working in the fall of 2011. I loved the behind-the-scenes aspects of the position--cataloging books, teacher support, creating displays, book repair, etc.
However, for 30 minutes each morning, I was faced with what had been my worst nightmare for years, and in the beginning it scared me like no Stephen King novel ever could (sorry Pennywise).
I had to teach Kindergarten Library.
With my feet to the fire, I learned that 5-6 year old kids aren't at all scary. They are simply little humans, most of whom are eager to hear a story. I learned to enjoy creating lesson plans around children's books, which exposed me to so many wonderful works I had never discovered while reading to my own children at home.
It gave me a different insight into the world of children's literature as I discovered that there are plenty of books that don't rely on "cute" to grab a child's attention. I would always seek out atypical titles to present to the students and try to engage them in unusual ways.
One of my favorite things to do during the frantic wind-up to Christmas vacation--a challenging time for all teachers--was to present a calming, quiet story or poem. No Santa, no reindeer, no elves. I would direct them to close their eyes and listen as I read about twinkling stars, silent snowflakes, and hushed winter forests. I could feel the energy level settle as I scanned their faces. They seemed to enjoy, if not embrace the calm, with almost thankful relief. When the story was finished, the kids would hover in that peaceful place until I told them to open their eyes.
I think we all felt the magic.
It was a powerful lesson.
This is when I felt a shift in my attitude toward the potential power of children's literature. These successful "teacher moments" formed the initial sparks of inspiration that led me to my first book of poetry for children, First Snow: Poems and Folk-art of Winter.
Next week, I'll continue relating my surprising journey into the realm of children's literature.
I write novels and poetry and this blog.