Eight versus Enormous
October 16, 2017
For today’s post, I had planned to read and recommend an E book (not an e-book, a book with a title beginning with the letter E.) However, although I’ve requested the book from the many-many-miles-away library, it hasn’t arrived at my branch yet. When I started thinking about E words, this is what emerged.
When I was eight (well, technically eight and a half) we went on our first family road trip. My parents were eager to show me the mountains and share something that brought them enormous joy.
However, it wasn’t total joy that happened inside their little eight-year-old as the car wound through the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. The mountains were enormous. The eight-year-old was used to flat prairie and roads that were relatively straight, or, if there were curves, they were visible from quite a distance.
The curves in the roads in the Wyoming Rockies aren’t visible until you get right up to them. To an eight-year-old, it looks as though the car is going to drive straight into the mountain with an enormous crash.
Grandpa had asked me to bring back a bear for him. I happily agreed — and indeed, did get a little flocked plastic black bear on a small piece of wood, stamped “Souvenir of Yellowstone.” I was delighted to present him with it when we got home.
I was less than delighted when a real black bear, albeit a small one, suddenly appeared at the edge of the road and walked along the barrier that kept us from driving off that exceptionally scary edge.
There were some joys for me in that trip — the swimming pool at the motel in Helena, Montana; the playground in the tiny yard of the motel in Gardiner, just outside the park; the man who chatted with us while we waited for Old Faithful to erupt (Old Faithful is amazing!), fireworks on the hillside across from our motel room on the Fourth of July (that first experience was cool!) — all these I remember with great fondnes.
As I look back at it now, I’m sure my parents were disappointed that I didn’t immediately share their love of the mountains. And two years later, when we drove through the Canadian Rockies on our way to Vancouver, I loved every moment of the trip, and still love the mountains.
My point, and I do have one, to quote another E, Ellen DeGeneres, is that for those of us who are writers, it’s important that we remember that the children we write for see things through a different lens than we do as adults. Things that bring us joy, like mountains and bends in the road, may be seen very differently by a child, who sees them as enormous and frightening.
That isn’t to say we should only write about things kids are familiar with, but we need to remember their limited experience when we write, and be sensitive to the way we introduce things — as my parents were, when they decided not to spend as long in the mountains as they’d intended on that first trip. But they didn’t give up, they tried again later, and I’m grateful they did.
E is about being Eight, and seeing things as Enormous. It’s about having limited Experience, but it’s also about having Empathy, Easing fears and Empowering someone to persevere and do something that’s new. It’s modelling Eagerness about new experiences. E is Encouraging.