Today’s guest post comes from Joshua David Stein.
Joshua David Stein frequently contributes to New York Magazine, The New York Times and The Guardian, and he is a restaurant critic at the New York Observer. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons. Today he tells us a little bit about his first children’s book, Can I Eat That? (illustrated by Julia Rothman), and following on from Anne Rooney’s piece yesterday, gets us thinking about the boundary between fact and fiction, and whether to really appreciate the latter we really need a good grip on the former.
“To a child, when the world is all new anyway, the distinction between fiction and nonfiction seems nearly irrelevant. If one doesn’t know sausages don’t talk — and how would one? — a sentient sausage could be fictive or it could simply be undiscovered. To the extent a work of fiction works, then, isn’t based on how far it diverges or whether it diverges at all from reality, but how well it functions independently. [That’s why the tremendous book ‘The Runaway Dinner’, which features a talking sausage named Melvin, is a masterpiece; the logic is internally consistent.] But when I sat down to write my first children’s book, Can I Eat That?, I did it hewing as closely as possible to the world as it is.
My reasons were numerous, conceptual and also selfish. The book — a series of questions that gradually unveil the possibilities of the edible world — was meant to be an entree into eating for my older son, Achilles, who at the time was a three-year-old who subsisted miraculously only on applesauce. The kid just wouldn’t eat. Try as I might, I couldn’t find from within our library any books that treated food as food, without the valence of anthropomorphisation or as fantasy. And as a father trying to jimmy nutrients into a child’s gullet with the least amount of terror and tumult, instilling in his inchoate mind that food could talk, had feelings, could love and lose, and make jokes and generally be charming, was counterproductive.
But even more than that, without discounting the very essential act of magical thinking or of fiction — which uses the real world often as inspiration for journeys into the geodes of our mind — I think it’s important for children to pay attention to what’s before them. Whether that is a sea urchin, a jelly fish, pickles, these very real things contain very real pleasures when our faculties are engaged in examining them. They are in themselves worthy of attention and worthy too in that they are the fuel that powers imagination. The fictive world will always exist but its richness depends on how well and with what precision we see what is real and really before us.”
Julia Rothman creates illustrations and pattern designs for newspapers, magazines, wallpaper, dishware, bedding, billboards, posters, and temporary tattoos. She has authored and illustrated seven books. She lives in Brooklyn. www.juliarothman.com, @juliarothman.