Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Another Golden Age?

Some interesting and encouraging conversations have been happening in my library lately.  Usually they begin with a child asking if I have a book on some obscure topic, often an animal, scientific concept or some little known event in history they have uncovered but can only find a few factoids about.  After an extensive search, I conclude that I do not.  Why don't they write one?  

Most often I'm met with a giggle but a few times I've gotten a wide-eyed curious response.  Really?  Could one of these well-read, articulate children be the next Robert McClung, Lois Lenski, Kate Seredy or Arthur Ransome?  My answer is YES!

Children brought up on living books are uniquely equipped to be writers of living books.  If you read biographies of the authors we love you will often find that they were surrounded by books, parents who loved to read and to read to their children.  These budding authors grew up with stories inside them waiting to be told.  Lists of dry facts were appalling to them.  Clothing these facts in story made the facts come alive, drew the reader in and helped the reader build relationships with the subject.

Sometimes I'm asked what recommendations I would give to children who desire to write.  My simple answer is to read.  But beyond that, I suggest that children read with a purpose.  Notice how an author like McClung teaches many facts through the story of Ruby Throatfor example.  Perhaps make a list while reading of all the facts.  It is amazing what can be learned through story.

Secondly, narrate.  This is simply telling back what has been read.  Read a portion, a short one at first, then tell it back with as much detail as possible.  When this becomes easier, try written narrations.  

Oddly enough, nature study is a wonderful tool for training good writers.  Nature study (or picture study, or observing anything closely enough to notice detail) can open our eyes to things we never saw before.  Close observation to detail and recording it through sketching or writing in a notebook causes us to notice deeply and think deeply.

Finding a topic of interest for which no interesting living books can be found is the perfect time to try writing one.  If you have been reading and narrating from the best living book authors, noticing the descriptive details they include as well as observing nature and the details God included, you can then use those techniques to transform the list of facts you have into a story to bring them to life.

The years between about 1900-1970 were special years in the life of books.  A plethora of exceptional living books were being written for children.  Michelle Miller, author of Truthquest History, calls this time the golden age of children's literature.  Since this time,  though there are more books for children being published now than ever before, there are few of them worthy of being called living.  Perhaps this will change in the years to come.  Perhaps God is preparing the children in my library and others like it to usher in another golden age.

Do you have other advice for encouraging and equipping the next generation of writers?  Please share.

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