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***On Writing for Children and Other People

by Julius Lester

Reviewed January 10, 2005.
Dial Books, New York, 2004.  159 pages.

On Writing for Children and Other People is in our young adult section, but this book is for middle school kids all the way up through adults.  In it, Julius Lester tells the story of his life and why he chose to write for children.  Along the way he explores what it means to be a storyteller and what story means to people.

He clothes lessons about writing in stories about his life.  “When I think about my education I don’t consciously remember the knowledge my teachers imparted, but I have vivid memories of them as people.  A teacher is not merely an intellect dispensing knowledge.  I consist of stories whose power in my life is far more compelling than mere intellect could ever be.  My personal story influenced how I taught as well as what I emphasized as important for students to know.”

I liked what he said about his first American Library Association convention.  “I had never been around so many people for whom bringing children and books together was tantamount to a religious calling.  How many children had become lifelong readers simply because of the passion of a librarian for books?  At that first ALA convention I learned that I had something in common with librarians and children—we read in order to be moved, and even changed by what we read.”  May I never lose that!

He said that he also found that attitude in writers for children.  “I wonder if something in the nature of writing for children helps us maintain a perspective on ourselves as writers.  Our ultimate judges are not critics but children who care only that we open our hearts to them, something few adults do—for children or each other.”

He talks about how story can transcend racial differences.  “I am convinced that if I can bring you into my being through the use of the imagination, I have created the possibility that you and I will see that we are more alike than we may have thought.”

“For writers the issue is not whether we write about our culture or someone else’s.  The issue is what it has always been—that we write well, that we write with integrity, that we write as much of the truth as we are able to apprehend.”

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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