What do I think about when writing poetry for children?
You may (or may not) have noticed that I like to open each post with an image. I enjoy the visual arts and I love trying to find that one perfect picture to capture the theme of of the week. Today, I was looking for an image to represent my main intention when I write for children:
My goal when writing for children is to instill, maintain, cultivate, and inspire a sense of wonder about the world (and universe) around them.
So, I typed "sense of wonder" into Google Image search. Not very imaginative, but it usually gets the job done. I scrolled through several memes, photos of dream-blurred children, butterflies, rainbows, unicorns...ugh.
Nothing seemed right. Then (face palm!) I realized that I already had the perfect representation for my theme. It is the painting that inspired the title and cover of How Big is the World.
The moment my mother showed her painting to me, two phrases came to mind: how big is the world, and immediately after, a sense of wonder. Fun fact--A Sense of Wonder was almost the title of the book, and I still may use it in the future.
Cultivating a sense of wonder
Very young children have a natural sense of wonder and delight toward the world. They take joy in learning and observing their surroundings. Excitement lights their faces when they see a butterfly for the first time, or pop a giant soap bubble with their finger, or splash in a mud puddle with abandon. I relished these moments with my own children and tried my best to maintain that wonder for as long as possible.
It's inevitable that, as children grow and enter school, some of their natural wonder begins to fade. It seems to be happening at increasingly younger ages for kids today. In my experience working in an elementary school library, I noticed many children seemed jaded, unimpressed by so many wonderful things in the world. I don't know if screen time is to blame, or hectic scheduling, or the lack of freedom in the classroom and playground. Perhaps it's a combination of these.
What I know for sure is that I wanted to try and bring back some of that sense of wonder to children. In the school library, much of my focus was on creating a lesson that would open up the students to a freedom of imagination and thought that would foster their sense of wonder. I wasn't concerned with them learning a lesson as much as I was with their ability to notice things. (After all, how can you wonder about something you haven't even noticed?)
How Big Is the World?
I close my eyes and imagine myself in his place, looking out over the scene. I imagine myself as a small child. I smell the grass that tickles between my toes. I hear birds twittering and feel the air on my skin. The sun warms my face and the top of my head.
This is the biggest field I've ever seen. There's so much green! And the sky seems to go on forever! I wonder how far away those hills are? I wonder what's on the other side? I wonder if I'll ever go there? There is so much for me to see. So much beyond this field. I wonder if there are bigger fields? The world must be really big to have more than one big field.
How big is the world?
It's What I Do
So, those are literally some of the thoughts that ran through my head when I sat down to contemplate and then write a poem based on my mother's painting. I did the same thing for every poem in the book. I use a similar process for many poems I write, starting with an image or scene in my head and writing from there. (Some poems start with a string of words stuck in my head, and I build around that.)
The title of the poem and the book can be read/interpreted two ways. The first comes from a place of curiosity, like that of a child, who wonders at the size of the world and wants to discover the answer. The second comes from a place of realization, perhaps from a more mature, experienced mind, that is amazed at the size of the world (and universe), and understands how small an individual is in comparison.
"How big is the world...How small am I?"
It's a question worth asking every day, no matter what your age.
I'm really enjoying this deep-dive into why I started writing for children. I hope you come along with me as I work down a list of human qualities I try to foster and celebrate in children through writing:
The list may expand, some items may combine, but these are the big ones for now.
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I write novels and poetry and this blog.