- “Why do we write children’s books?” by Astrid Lindgren1
Why do you only write children’s books? This is a question that I have been asked many times. The simplest way to answer this is to tell the truth: because it is the only thing I can do. I have neither the ability nor the desire to write for adults. What people don’t seem to understand is that, for the most part, there are two different types of authors, those who write for adults and those who write for children. There are those who can do both, but not as many as you might think. A good so-called “adult author”—some might say “real author”—cannot automatically write a good children’s book, although there are many who think they can.
One person who can and does is Isaac Bashevis Singer. He must have been asked many times: “Why on earth do you write for children, Mr. Singer?” I know he has been asked this, because he answered this very question in an oft-cited statement given, among others, here in Stockholm when he received the Nobel Prize. This is what he said:
There are five hundred reasons why I began to write for children, but to save time I will mention the most important.
Children read books, not reviews. They don’t give a hoot about the critics.
Children don’t read to find their identity.
They don’t read to free themselves of guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.
They have no use for psychology.
They detest sociology.
They don’t try to understand Kafka or Finnegans Wake.
They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.
They love interesting stories, not commentary, guides, or footnotes.
When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority. [End Page 188]
They don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that it is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions.
So says Isaac Singer.
Another question that has been asked is: Do we need children’s books? Some such “right-thinking” people have offered the opinion that no, no one should write books especially for children. Children should go straight to the classics. Those who believe this have presumably not mixed with either children or children’s classics for a long time.
Perhaps in our land, there are two or three disparate child geniuses who—without any earlier acclimation—can absorb Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe, but average children need to begin with other books, so that they can learn to like reading. And the love of books must be established early, preferably as early as mother’s milk. It is believed nowadays that children in the womb can hear and enjoy song and music and mothers are invited to sing to their unborn children. Why shouldn’t the newborn at their mother’s breast get to hear some appropriate children’s rhymes like
Krakel SpektakelKusin Vitaminhängde och slängdei en gardin.2
Children need an early loving introduction to the world of words and rhymes and a harmonious continuation on that road with the help of many inviting children’s books. This is the ingenious way we shape book lovers who will, at last, with a joyful leap throw themselves into adult literature, into prose as well as poetry. Then, instead of “Krakel Spektakel” they will take other poems to their hearts, perhaps “Have you seen the country in the summer?” and other equally fine and wonderful poems.3
The idea that children’s books are unnecessary is one of those childish illusions that Isaac Singer said adults suffer from.
Among the questions that children’s book authors are asked, the most common of all is: What makes a good children’s book? What should it be like?
In response, I ask another question: What should a good novel be like? What should a good poem be like? Novelists and...