I have a bulletin board on the wall above my desk that contains a shifting series of pictures, quotations, and reminders. When I was working on a novel about a girl who plays basketball, I tacked up photographs of my daughter’s middle-school basketball teams and quotations from basketball greats. When I was working on a nonfiction picture book about the Peace rose, I hung up a picture of my husband and son standing in front of the gnarled old Peace rosebush in front of our first house. (Unfortunately, I haven’t yet figured out what to hang up for the new novel I’m working on, because it’s still so amorphous).
But no matter what I’m working on (or trying to work on), there is one thing that always stays on my bulletin board. A quotation from the wonderful children’s writer Richard Peck:
“Had I known how brief childhood is, I’d have looked closer.”
I keep this quotation in front of me to remind me of how fleeting childhood is, but also to remind me of what I’m trying to do – to look at the world around me through a child’s eyes. And to look closely.
It’s such a difficult task, isn’t it?
To gaze at the scurrying life beneath an overturned rock as if we’d never seen it before. To sit with our eyes closed, walking our way back to our fifth-grade classrooms, conjuring up specific friendships, indignities, hopes, and fears.
But as difficult as this is, it’s also a gift, don’t you think?
Because while writing for children forces us to look closer, it also gives us an excuse to do so.
I really, really hope I can find the right things to hang on my bulletin board for this new novel soon (so that I don’t have to go into a complete panic). But I also know that if I pay attention to Richard Peck – if I slow down and look closer – I just might find what I need.
Barbara Carroll Roberts graduated from Hamline’s MFAC program in 2017. Her middle grade novel, NIKKI ON THE LINE, an early draft of which was her creative thesis at Hamline, will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in March, 2019. Her nonfiction picture book, A ROSE NAMED PEACE, which she also worked on at Hamline, will be published by Candlewick in 2021. (She considers herself extremely fortunate to have found Hamline.)