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Can an Old Dog Learn a New Trick?

My daughters have often said to me, "Dad, you ought to write a book (or article) on ____," and they fill that blank with whatever subject has popped into their heads. Several times my wife has said, "There are just no good books on ____," and she fills in that blank with some historical topic that she sees lacking among the books available for her second-grade students. "You should write a children's book about that."


In each such instance, I've found some reason (excuse?) for not doing so, primarily because I generally don't read children's books, unless it's to one of my grandkids. One tends to write on the subjects and the level of the books that he himself reads. I can just imagine any children's book that I might write being filled with enough endnotes and complex sentence constructions to turn away even the most astute genius child!


So I haven't written any children's books. Yet.


But I am honestly trying to open myself to that idea, if for no other reason than to say I at least have tried and can then say, "I told you I couldn't do it!" Maybe if I did write one, those who've suggested it will see just how bad I am at that task and tell me to stick to what I know.


But I have been reading a little about how children's authors do their thing. It's a start, I suppose. Small, baby steps to start before, like a little child just learning to walk, I fall flat on my backside. Although I am learning, in the back of my mind remains the question Can an old dog really learn a new trick?

For example, between the various tasks of several writing projects (and other involvements), I've been reading a book by Natalie Babbitt, a Newbery Medal-winning children's author, titled Barking with the Big Dogs: On Writing and Reading Books for Children. Although I borrowed the book from the library assuming that it was a how-to-do-it book, I learned that it's more about the philosophical foundations of the craft. Rather than the how-to, I'm learning about the why.


Here are a few quotations from the book that I liked, knowing that the principles behind them are applicable to not only children's books but also almost any kind of writing, even the kind I normally do.


"Any kind of writing is hard work, so why not try to have something worthwhile to show for it?"
"Someone once said that the older we get, the more aware we are that we don't know much. . . . But the trouble is, it's also true that the older we get the more we're expected to sound as if we know a great deal."
"[W]riters who feel their works are holy are probably not very good writers, by virtue of the fact that a workmanlike detachment is at some point in the creative process absolutely essential."
"It is our job to do the very best we can to stimulate as much love of reading as we can."
"We all seem to think we ought to be like someone else. Look like someone else, live like someone else. Instead of trying to be as good a version of ourselves as we can, we seem to think we ought to be someone else entirely."
"I have this deeply held conviction, that you can't write a decent book if the subject or theme is prescribed from the outside, by something beyond your experience and your own truths and passions."
"[Writers] have a responsibility to do the very best work we're capable of. And I still think that means we should each stick to what we know, and do what we do best."

I don't think I'll be writing a children's book anytime soon. But I'll try to keep learning about that outlet. Meanwhile, I have many other irons in the fire and, following Babbitt's advice, I want to do better what I already know. There's room for growth in both worlds. Who knows, maybe this old dog may someday learn to do a new trick!


By the way, Evangelism and Expulsion, my book about missi9onary work among the Cherokees, will soon be released by TouchPoint Press. Also, I just this week signed a contract for the publication of another of my works of adult nonfiction, Dillon's War. I''ll try to keep you posted on the progress of both books.

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