Today we have a guest post from the author of Look Up!, Annette LeBlanc Cate. We shared our review of Look Up!on Wednesday and now Annette shares with us some of her writing inspiration for Look Up!
When my older son started elementary school, forms were sent home asking if parents might like to volunteer... and if so, for what? I was so grateful to the school for keeping my son out of my hair for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week (well, I know it's their job, but still...) I figured volunteering once a week or so was the least I could do. Lunchroom? Oh, heavens no, too noisy, the playground; too rowdy. Copyroom? No thank you, I squandered two years of my life running a xerox machine already. How about the library? That sounded perfect... nice and quiet, and I could keep an eye on what kind of books kids liked. Being a childrens' book author and illustrator, I figured that could be very useful.
Well, it was more than just useful, it was completely eye-opening experience. I really did learn quite a bit. The thing I learned right off the bat?
That kids LOVE books about military vehicles.
I admit that I found it vaguely annoying that I always seemed to be shelving the same book about military vehicles over and over, week after week. It seemed as though as soon as one kid brought it back, another kid would grab it. These darn kids and their utter lack of imagination, taking the same book out over and over, I would grumble to myself as I found its place, and then I would scramble over with my armload of books to the section about puppies and kittens and horses. Those books went out every week, too.
I did find it odd. Why were they always taking the same books out, over and over? That same book about hammerhead sharks? Why, always, always, always books about puppies and kittens?
Well DUH, it finally hit me... because kids love puppies and kittens. And they love Humvees, and sharks, and they especially love dinosaurs and Egypt and the animals of the rainforest, and gems and rocks and volcanoes. It finally hit me one day, as I hunkered down, yet again, in front of the books about planets, putting away a grimy taped-together book about Saturn, next to a shabby old book about Jupiter. As I sat there in front of these battered old books, it dawned on me that it was sort of beautiful...how these books were loved nearly to death.
Kids take these same books out over and over because they want to know stuff. They love non-fiction because it teaches them about the world.
Knowing this isn't exactly why I wrote a non-fiction book, myself. My last book was a fiction picture book, and that was wonderful, too. I do believe fiction also helps kids make sense of the world,...maybe just in a more roundabout way. I wrote my bird book simply because I felt compelled to do so, I felt I knew a lot about something and that I could share it in a fun way, a way kids would like. I knew I would have fun writing it, but I also knew I would be dead serious, because, clearly, writing non-fiction for kids is a pretty big responsibility. I have used childrens' non-fiction for years in my own research as an illustrator for Appleseeds magazine.... and I know how good most of it is. Whenever I need pictures of Vikings or Spanish explorers or togas, childrens' books are always my first place to look. Most are superbly researched, have clear writing even I can understand, and have great pictures. I always they knew they were useful... but I didn't know yet quite just how wonderfully satisfying it would be to write one.
Writing non-fiction for kids is a little bit like being a teacher for a very small moment in time. You have your thing you have learned about, the thing you want to share, the thing you wrote your book about...and you prepare and practice and present... and you hope they read it, you hope they learn, you hope they remember, you hope you have helped them learn a little something about the world. And if your book makes it into a library, you may have this opportunity with a whole bunch of kids in a year...one at a time, but still...and for who knows how many years...maybe year after year after year.
I gave my bird book to the school librarian this week, and she hasn't put it in the system yet, she isn't quite sure what its Dewey Decimal number will be. Wherever it is...it is my deepest hope that my book, too, will become filthy by being manhandled by hundreds of little school-grimy hands (oh and school's a grimy place, no matter how much anti-bacterial gunk they go through), I hope it is taken home and read on the bus and taken outside and dropped into a puddle, then taken to the dinner table, where it falls into the gravy, and I hope it gets read and loved until it's a mess and its cover falls off and gets taped back on with yellowy tape, just like those books about military vehicles and Saturn.
Because that would be beautiful.
A big thank you to Annette for sharing these wonderful thoughts about looking at the world around you for inspiration as well as her perspective on well-loved books.