Leda Schubert * Writer of Picture Books

An Occasional Post

Why write for children?

September 17, 2010

Tags: frost, garden, camp, politics

I’ve been busy. Everybody’s busy. Living in Vermont means getting ready for winter early: stacking wood, cleaning the woodstove, putting the garden to bed, checking for drafts, etc. A frost is predicted for tonight, and I should be outside picking the last of the produce (baseball bat zucchinis, anyone?).

I must admit, however, that I abandoned the garden a while ago. When it’s in the nineties and humid, I sit in front of a fan and write. We had repulsive heat (I know some of you like it. Not me--) followed by no rain, and the soil turned to dust. Poor garden. Maybe next year. I apologize to all my plants. Know that I love you.

So my camp reunion is next weekend. Six months ago, the idea of a reunion was but a gleam in my eye. Then I began to find people. As I wrote in an earlier post, I have become a superb detective. Somewhere between 60 and 70 people are coming, and we have all kinds of plans. We’ll sing folksongs we learned from Pete Seeger and many others, do a few folk dances (no more scratchy 45s--I’ve downloaded the MP3 files), play with gimp (remember gimp, anybody?), and talk, talk, talk.

We also plan to re-create a history of camp. What happened when, who was there, which miraculous events occurred in what year. And we will, for sure, talk about politics…

…which has led me to think about politics in children’s books. In Learning from the Left, Julia L. Mickenberg examines “how writers and illustrators passed dissenting ideas on to children.” I’ve wondered for a long time about my own lifetime desire to write for children.

What compels so many of us to focus our attention on young readers? Why write for children instead of adults? How do you answer this question for yourself when you think about it? I believe it’s more than this: “children are such a receptive audience.”

I’d love to hear what you have to say. I’ll focus more in my next post, or so I hope.

In the meantime, wish me luck with the reunion. I have lots to do to get ready, but I’m not a nervous wreck. What happens, happens—right?


  1. September 17, 2010 1:55 PM EDT
    I think E.B. White said that children are the most demanding audience to write for -- he said you can't write "down" to children, but rather "up," and I think there's a lot of truth to that. While I suppose some chidren's writers come to it with a political or other agenda, I bet most do it because they love to write, they love to tell stories, they love the way children's minds work, they've found a writing voice that works well for children., and they love the challenge of writing convincingly for children.

    I once asked Diane Ackerman, a nature writer, whether her writing was driven by an urge to preserve the things she loved and to raise awareness about the natural world, and she replied quite frankly that she writes for purely selfish reasons -- she loves to write, and writes about what she loves, plain and simple. If one of her books happens to cause someone to change their behavior, that's just icing on the cake.
    - Brad
  2. September 17, 2010 5:18 PM EDT
    Brad, I certainly agree with E. B. White. Fascinating comment from Diane Ackerman, whose writing I also love. Thanks.
    - Leda Schubert
  3. September 17, 2010 5:42 PM EDT
    Leda, I hope your reunion is wonderful and life-affirming and friend-affirming - they are lucky to have you organizing it.

    I'll say, in terms of writing for children, that though the main purpose is my own pleasure (love to write poems, no matter who the intended audience) I also sense deep within me a desire to help children understand, from a very early age, that the world is a mysterious place, full of wonder and beauty and heartache and complications - nothing is simple, so we should try not to be simple-minded. My goal, if I follow on this desire, is to produce a citizenry that earns its art, that is not as smug and self-satisfied and self-righteousness as all the Tea Party nuts taking over the country right now. I want to suggest that nuance and doubt are good. I ask a lot of questions in my work, and I love to think that kids will learn to ask questions, too.
    - Julie Larios
  4. September 17, 2010 7:45 PM EDT
    Have a fabulous time at your reunion, which is just one way to revisit your own "childhood" (have no idea how old you were at camp...) - writing for kids is the other. Hugs - j
    - Janet Fox
  5. January 26, 2011 9:03 AM EST
    Why write for children? Children's are our just near future we should keep good things for them. Thinking so, I am trying to do so.
    - online book shop for children

Now Available or Coming Soon (Click on each title for complete information.)

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, June, 2017
Click for a pdf discussion and activities guide. (Look on left of page after clicking.)
A nonfiction picture book illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Roaring Brook Press, 2006
Holiday House, Fall 2011. Illustrated by Amanda Haley
Illustrated by Bonnie Christensen and published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press.
Illustrated by Andrea U'Ren and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. March, 2010.
Illustrated by Mary Azarian, published by Houghton Mifflin 2005
Illustrated by William Benedict. Candlewick, 2000.