I ran across a Langston Hughes poem in Jane Yolen’s wonderful Switching on the Moon collection last night, and the spirit it expressed so beautifully captured my thoughts about writing for children, I had to share it. Here’s the poem, first:
“The Dream Keeper” by Langston Hughes
Bring me all your dreams,
Bring me all your heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.
Lovely, no? Ever since I started trying to fashion a career (okay, that’s too lofty; how about “avocation”? “Nutty side gig”? “Deep dark secret”?) out of writing for kids, I’ve given a lot of thought about why I’m doing it. Since then, I’ve come to realize the value, perhaps even necessity, which stories represent for children. I’ve got a couple of them (kids), and I can say from experience something magical happens when I crack open a book and begin reading to them. Something equally magical occurs following those five gorgeous words: “Tell me a story, Daddy.” That something has to do with dreams. In stories, anything’s possible. The rules of our world don’t apply. Good triumphs, hope rises. Monsters are slain. Swords are pulled from stones. And I think kids need this. It’s a sanctuary, a safe zone where the “too-rough fingers of the world,” as Hughes calls them, can’t come prying. To read is to dream of a world you can call your own. I fully recognize that writing for children isn’t seen as a legitimate form of literature by many. But the people I know who write for children, many of whom I’m lucky enough to share a table with at monthly RACWI meetings, are heroes. They dare to dream up whole worlds, spinning words into gold so that children now and in the future will be able to inhabit these worlds and dream their own dreams. I know that’s what happened with me. I stand on the shoulders of Lewis, Tolkein, and others, and together, we all build this collective kingdom of story. They bring us their “heart melodies,” and we wrap them gently in “blue cloud-cloth,” preserving the innocence of youth for as long as we possibly can.