I tend to like fantasy, but not crazy stuff -- think Harry Potter, The Book of Lost Things, or slightly dark and creepy reinterpretations of fairy tales a la Gregory Maguire. That's what I want to write. But each time I start digging into the meat of a story, and there have been several, all sorts of problems spring into existence. Am I really writing for adults, or young adults, or children? Am I striking the right balance between fantasy and reality, where readers can relate to the characters and situations? Do I want this set in the present, or the past? What role is fantasy/magic actually serving in the story, other than just making things interesting?
Obviously, I have a lot of decisions to make before I truly start. But isn't that what every aspiring novelist says forever, without ever actually writing a novel? I can totally see myself sitting in a rocker in about fifty years, talking about the books that might have been...
Thanks to my Uncle Andy, I stumbled across a list of the top 100 children's books, at least according to ChildrensBooksGuide.com. And while I disagree with some of their choices and placements -- excuse me, it's a crime against humanity to put Corduroy below Everyone Poops -- I loved perusing old favorites.
A lot of children's books are kind of twisted.
For instance, when I was little I liked the book Love You Forever, but I cannot be the only one who was majorly creeped out when the mother drove across town and, aided by a ladder, climbed into her grown son's darkened window in the dead of night and picked him up and started rocking him. Perhaps I was too old to be reading that book and it's a sweet sentiment for very young children -- is it really, though? -- but that scene actually left me afraid for years that someone would carry a ladder around our neighborhood and climb into my bedroom window.
Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order except the first, because nothing beats Shel Silverstein.
- The Giving Tree -- oh my gosh, waterworks. Best children's story ever.
- The Cat in the Hat
- Strega Nona
- Carl Goes Shopping (how could they have missed this one?)
- Harold and the Purple Crayon
- Goodnight Moon
- The Runaway Bunny
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Angelina Ballerina (they dropped the ball here too)
- We're Going on a Bear Hunt
- The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
- The Napping House
- The Polar Express
- All Mother Goose nursery rhymes (my grandma can vouch for this)
I love children's books. Someday, far into the future, I'm sure one of my favorite things to do will be reading bedtime stories to our kids (possibly giving them nightmares -- I'll avoid Love Your Forever, just to be safe).
And maybe then, as they cry and scream through the night -- because they're little kids, not because I just traumatized them with a book -- I'll stay up and finally write that book.
Because mothers of young children have so much free time on their hands... right?