Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why I Write for the Wild Minds of Kids: A Fan Letter that Affected Me Deeply

The email started out as a typical bit of fan mail for N.E. Bode, the pen name I use for some of my novels for younger readers -- a mother had read the book with her son and they were sending a little note. I wrote back, as I always do. And then the mother, Jane, wrote back and in her email, she explained this:

"And my son liking your book is a pretty big compliment. He's become a kind of a book snob. I was reading to him a book I checked out in the kid section and he wouldn't listen. He stays home with me (my other kids attend public school). My 11 year old (Hawken) can't talk or walk but he makes a lot of noise if he doesn't like it. He signed to me several times he wanted to keep reading with The Anybodies. Thanks so much. Have a great evening!"

And then came another email which included this picture and this note:

Julianna, Just thought you'd like to see one of your biggest fans, Commander Hawken. This was taken two years ago. He looks about the same. This is one of his uniforms. He has five! Anyway, no worries -- I'm not a stalker emailer....last email. Again, Thank you. Jane

I never thought I'd write books for kids. I suppose, early on, I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer so desperately that I never considered it. But now, I think of it as a truly high calling as well as deeply selfish. On the one hand, I love that I get to sink into a child's mind early on, before the wilds have been turned into a proper terrarium and before that terrarium is bleached and aired and given over to factuality and data and things that you'll later be tested on.

But while working on The Anybodies, my first kid novel, I kind of thought I was writing for my child self -- an impatient reader who needed big magical weirdness and lots of wit. But I never knew that I would be writing for specific kids, ones out there in the world, strangers to me, but like minds who needed big magical weirdness and lots of wit.

Like Hawken here.

It's an honor to write for kids, a privilege to write for the mind that's still a wild imaginative jungle. And I'm humbled by my readers. I was humbled by this post, this mother and her son, and reminded that as writers we send books out there and sometimes they land in the hands they need to be in.

(Go buy a book for a kid.)