When I’m asked to give a nutshell description of my latest book-in-progress, I say that it’s Thoreau for toddlers. It’s widely known that Henry David Thoreau knew how to convey the exuberance of a fresh morning. He didn’t have to leave the close environs of Walden Pond to examine and learn from every living thing, whether animal or plant, right in his own “back yard.” In his words, “the only medicine I need is a draught of morning air.”
I have always gotten stopped in my tracks while on the way to the mailbox, my gardening chores, errands, or whatever may have led me outdoors. Something always scuttles, buzzes, flies, or sings my attention away from what may have been intended. Even if I just want to amble or think, I know the new and unexpected will be just outside my door. Now I have some surprising help writing my world.
A two-year-old great-granddaughter has become a vital part of our lives, so the unexpected in nature brings even greater thrills, squeals, and baby questions. Her eyes see the wonder she constantly investigates, and my latest manuscript is influenced greatly by her “ghostwriting” observations. I don’t have to wonder what to present to a young child or how important it might be to choose certain subject matter. Sydney gives me great material.
The other day, we were holding hands as usual while walking down a length of flowerbed. A very long, fat earth worm wriggled over the dirt searching for a “door” down under. Sydney stopped short and squeezed my hand hard. “What’s that? What’s he doing?” Our walks and play times are packed with “Look, doves” or “Look, mockingbird.” Before she was two, she could identify several bird species after one or two sightings, much to my surprise. This gave me insight about what could be meaningful in my new book for one- to five-year-olds. Their curiosity and sponge-like ability to learn makes it so much fun to include new vocabulary and knowledge about their world. Rather than keep all the words short and simple, I think it’s a good idea to stretch children a bit by giving them some challenges in pronunciation. They can understand a great deal by context and illustration. This gives the adult reader a great way to talk about the story and bond with the child – the special time that encourages a love of reading. Our little Sydney enjoys looking through her books alone, too, after we have read them together and she is familiar with the contents and pictures.
My current book is underway, with every page influenced by Sydney’s discoveries in the natural world. She has registered her reactions as clearly as if she had written them, so she is a reliable “ghostwriter,” representing her toddler generation. These babies of the 21st century are different in many ways from those of just a few decades ago, but their zeal for everything in sight begins as soon as they open their eyes each day. Just as with all the babies ever born, they want to know; all we have to do is tell the stories. Sydney and I will be working on HELLO MORNING, and I’ll post news of our progress on the new book in the months to come.