My mother went to university when I was in grammar school. One of the great payoffs for me was her Anthology of Children’s Literature. It was a mammoth, double-columned tome of poetry, folklore, myth, and short stories. I loved it, and spent hours laying on my bed, chin in hands, flipping through its pages.
Alas, growing up, the book was lost. But much of my adult life haunting used bookstores and yard sales has been looking for this book. I didn’t even know its name, but each anthology I came across I quickly left behind. After fifteen years of looking, I got desperate and went to my mother’s alma mater and asked the English secretary if they had a certain syllabus from the early 1980s. She looking strangely at me and I backed slowly out of the office.
One time I pulled an anthology off a friend’s shelf. It wasn’t the right one, but I quickly found within it an essay by C.S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children.” I was stunned at his brilliant and humorous advice, and how very quotable he was. I’ll save some of my favourites for the end of this blog, but this is what caught my eye when it fell on that accidental page:
“[When I write for children] I put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties” (22).
It really is a great essay, widely available online, and found it Lewis’ essay compilations Of Other Worlds and On Stories.
Recently I had the chance to talk with William O’Flaherty of EssentialCSLewis.com on his Essay Chat feature. It is a great opportunity to explore one of C.S. Lewis’ most famous essays. It was also an opportunity to catch up on the essay that not only informs my writing for children, but drew me into studying Lewis in the first place.
You can find the interview here. I would love your comments!
By sheer chance, a few months ago, I finally found the lost Anthology. A digital friend was giving away some books, and this was one of them. It turned out to be the Riverside Anthology of Children’s Literature, and it is available used or as a free ePUB online. My son can now flip through this incredible resource, as I have done.
On the search for that book, though, I found this great essay. Here are some more great quotes:
- “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story”
- “Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us”
- “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing”
- On arachnophobia: “I don’t know anything my parents could have done or left undone which would have saved me from the pincers, mandibles, and eyes of those many-legged abominations”
- “everything in the story should arise from the whole cast of the author’s mind”
- “The matter of our story should be a part of the habitual furniture of our minds”
- “The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man”