Sometimes when I have the “What do you do/I’m a writer/Oh, what do you write/Books for kids” conversation with new people, I get a Look that I’ve come to recognize. It’s the “Oh. For kids. So not real books” look. (It’s similar to the “Oh, fantasy” look, but that’s another blog post.) I always find it amusing–and a little sad–because it makes me realize that these people have forgotten what it was like to read books when they were a kid.
When I was a kid I used to fly out alone to Kansas every summer to visit my grandmother, because she is an awesome (read: awe-some) lady and there’s nothing like a good Kansas thunderstorm in the summer afternoons. One year I was waiting at the airport gate to board, passing the time (as always) by reading a book. Eventually I resurfaced long enough to wonder, Are they ever going to call my flight?
So I went up to the counter to ask, and they just LOOKED at me and very quietly said, “Are you Meagan Spooner?”
And I blinked and said “Yes? How do you know my name?”
Apparently, they’d been paging me for ten minutes straight. Not only had my flight been called, but I missed it–and the repetition of my own name over a loudspeaker–by a good fifteen minutes.
Man, was THAT ever a difficult phone call to my mother, who had to help me get a ticket for the next plane out. How do you justify missing a FLIGHT by saying “Sorry, the book was just getting good!” As it turned out, my mother was barely even surprised. This was not a new occurrence.
Now, I remember reading like that with a nostalgia that’s almost painful. It’s not that I don’t get lost in a good book anymore, but the way I read has definitely changed as I’ve grown up. When I was little I’d stay up until 4 AM with a flashlight under my covers, reading, because I thought my parents didn’t know (hah). I’d read as I walked down the hallways in school, ricocheting off walls and other students. I’d put my shin guards and cleats on at home so that I could read at practice while the rest of my soccer team was donning their gear.
I just don’t do that anymore. I still read voraciously–I read on commutes and before I sleep, and on rainy afternoons, and if I have a good book on offer I still stay up late reading (let’s not mention how late I was up finishing The Hunger Games). But that frenzied need for more and more words and worlds and stories and characters has faded a little in the face of things like rent payments and degrees and tax forms and feeding the pets and doing the dishes. And now I read like a writer, so that even in the middle of the most absorbing and amazing book, I’ll end up pausing to ask myself, “Okay, so how did she make this work, when nothing happens for the first 20 pages? How is this character so fully realized? What makes that sentence burn itself into my mind?”
But this is why I love writing for children and teens. There’s just nothing to compare to the way a child reads a book, so absorbed that calling their name over a loudspeaker doesn’t even penetrate the haze of wonder and excitement surrounding them. There isn’t an audience on the planet more rewarding and devoted than a child. There are a million reasons I like writing for kids, but this has to be one of the most important to me.
Books were such an important part of my childhood that I can’t even define it. How can I not want to give that back, in turn? By writing for kids I remind myself of that absolutely pure joy in books, unpolluted by adult concerns or preoccupations. When I write for kids, it’s like I’m eight years old again, hiding under my covers with a flashlight. I can taste that utter absorption. And the writing isn’t always fun and it definitely isn’t always easy, but when it’s working, when it’s REALLY working, I’m as lost in it as I ever was. I write and write and write and sometimes, when someone calls my name from the next room, I don’t even hear them.