Writing for Children is a Mammoth Task

Paola Peretti – photography Mirko Fin

by Paola Peretti

Clichés are to be avoided, simplicity recommended. I do believe, though, that gently nudging children in a natural way towards knowledge and understanding is a good thing. For this reason, I don’t purposely keep difficult words out of my writing. When readers encounter something they don’t understand, they can simply look it up in the dictionary and learn something new. Whether it be via tales from imaginary travels, illustrations or unusual parts of language, the purpose of reading (to pick one of its many merits) is to make space in our minds to embrace whatever comes our way, so that by the act of reading we come to understand ourselves and others.

The stories we choose don’t always have to be politically correct. Children aren’t politically correct. They want to know. They have questions, but they also have a sense of enchantment, which excessive doses of reality could completely destroy. Perhaps, if we’re not to offend their extraordinary ability to perceive and feel, we should not be silent. Life can be complicated, and we should give young readers a way of learning the truths of the world gradually, an opportunity to observe how the characters in a favourite book handle them.

Receptiveness, tolerance . . . these are qualities that are so hard to achieve, for a writer. Equally so, if young people are forced to read, the task gets no easier! Writer and teacher Daniel Pennac taught us that young people also have the right to not read, to re-read and to read wherever they choose. I try to remember this when I write, to imagine what might keep them ‘hooked’ and where I should let go, give the mind time to relax, and elaborate. A book is like a parent whose children have moved away, for college or work: even when left alone, it continues to love and give.

We shouldn’t forget, also, that we all learn through imitation, and that reading takes time. For ourselves, and for others, if we are to open a book and read it aloud to someone, it takes time we don’t have. But perhaps we do have time. Ten minutes a day, like a short walk, a phone call to our grandparents, or an afternoon snack. These things are good for us, and that’s what we all want, I think: to be good to ourselves.

And we can compare, and share. One book doesn’t necessarily please all – adventure inspires different emotions and thoughts than science fiction or crime – but all books will please someone. Being able to discuss them is another great benefit of reading; being able to feel close to someone else who loved a story as much as we did, or who couldn’t love it at all.

The thing that interests me the most in writing a story is the idea of resilience. I want my characters not to succumb; I see them finding a way to pull themselves up and evolve. In my book, The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree, I don’t know if this comes through Mafalda’s gentle voice, but if even just one boy or girl feels less alone after having met her, the mammoth task will have meant something, enough to try again. And again.

This is a guest blog by author Paola Peretti and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the FCBG. The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti is published by Hot Key Books. 

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