March 15, 2010

Subject: The Power of the Adult World (or What's In Your Desk?)

Last Friday, my daughter had the day off from school, and she spent a better part of the morning digging through shelves and files in my desk.

She found:

  • A package of Avery pre-perforated business card paper
  • A box of yellow, pink, green, and orange chalk pastels
  • Stacks of old, unfiled photos
  • A box of gouache paints
  • An empty plastic 8x12” envelope, and
  • A file box containing drafts and sketches from the first picture book I ever wrote

What she did next:

  • She took three sheets of the business card paper to make business cards of her own, advertising the “grocery store” she runs out of our pantry.
  • She commandeered the pastels for her art class on Saturday.
  • She requested the box of paints for someday.
  • She filled the envelope with money and receipts from the grocery store.
  • And she complimented me on my drawing skills.

(As an aside… oh, how strange to see that old picture book story. It’s a full thirty-two pages long. I started it in part thanks to a challenge from my husband. Madonna had just released another picture book, and he said something like ‘If Madonna can write, then surely you can, too.” Thanks, love, for the nudge!)

Back to my desk

The treasures my daughter discovered reminded me of something I read once about Inkheart author Cornelia Funke:

Like Philip Pullman, Funke understands that children are intrigued by the power of the adult world (“Harry Potter’s German Cousins,” Times, May 13, 2006)

The power of the adult world.

I love that notion. It makes me think not just of Meggie in Inkheart and Lyra in A Golden Compass, but also of Millicent Min, Junie B. Jones, Ramona, Roy in Hoot, and Dewey in The Green Glass Sea, all trying to make sense of what is happening in the world around them and how they not only fit in but contribute.

So many aspects of the adult world fascinate our kids. Look at the way even toddlers beg to play with their parents’ cell phones or laptops. Think about the way they play dress up and “grocery store.”

I remember playing with the cash register at my grandma’s Laundromat, tapping on the secretary’s typewriter at my dad’s office, and sorting through fabric samples that my mom got from the Design Center in San Francisco. I dreamed of being a zoologist, a marine biologist, a journalist, and a spy like Harriet in Harriet the Spy (another character fascinated by the adult world).

Although Friday’s school holiday limited my writing time, my daughter’s questions and discoveries made me think of some character questions to explore:

  • What about the adult world intrigues the protagonist in my India novel?
  • If she dug through her mother’s desk, what would she discover?
  • What about her mother’s life intrigues her? Confuses her? Appeals to her?
  • And how do the answers to those questions impact her dreams and beliefs?

What about the adult world intrigues your characters?

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