Viewing the World from a Child's Perspective

Monday, October 23, 2017

On Saturday I attended a writers’ conference sponsored by the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The conference was held at an elementary school, and most of the chairs were too small for the adult writers who participated. Yes, we sat in them, but we also complained about how uncomfortable they were and how hard it would be for us to get out of a seat that was so low to the ground. And I was as guilty as everyone else.

After I returned home and got a good night’s rest, I realized I was looking at the situation from the wrong perspective.

Children see the world differently than adults do. Of course we know that, but we don’t always remember it. When sitting in a lower chair, I had to physically look up farther to see the presenter’s face. And for children, that physical difference is also a difference in authority. As a three-year-old peeking out from behind my grandfather Page’s chair, I knew very little of the world, while my grandparents had the wisdom of experience. Children’s writers, like parents, need to remember and understand that earlier innocence when conveying our adult wisdom. If we don’t, children won’t learn from the story.

Most of us have heard the old Native American adage that you shouldn’t judge people until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. We can’t understand someone’s actions and reactions if we haven’t gone through the same things. That applies to writing for children, too, although in a slightly different way. We’ve all been children, so we have all walked in childhood’s shoes. But how well do we remember the experience? Sitting in a child-sized chair can help.

But not entirely. When I sat in a child’s chair, I was uncomfortable because it was too small for me. Children have a different reaction. For them, it’s a perfect fit. So we can’t bring our current perspective into our stories. We must reach back to the feelings we experienced in the past.

Author Ursula K. LeGuin once said, “Sure, it’s simple writing for kids . . . Just as simple as bringing them up.”

Writing for children is simple. Just as simple as viewing the world from a child’s perspective.

And just as hard.

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