Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Crooked Truth: Confessions of a Disney Childhood

I’m pretty sure that the first time I heard the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, Donald Duck and Goofy were somehow in the mix. And I’m pretty sure the first version of Stone Soup I came across as a child also starred Disney characters. I can still picture Daisy Duck, adorned with a gigantic pink bow, stirring a cauldron.

At the beginning of my writing career, when I first started speaking at libraries and schools, I dreaded getting asked the question: What was your favorite book as a child? It was always particularly bad when I was on a panel and other writers answered first. Bridge to Terabithia. The GiverFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler. The Hobbit. When I was a young reader, I hadn’t heard of any of these books. So when asked that dreaded question, I never knew if I should tell the truth and say, My favorite book growing up was The Mystery of the Missing Peanuts, featuring Mickey Mouse as a zookeeper and Donald Duck as a detective. Or maybe I could dodge the question and softly blame my mother and simply admit: Growing up, we only had Disney books in my house.

In the beginning I really worried what people would think about this.

I mean, it’s like a nutritionist getting caught with a refrigerator full of cookie dough and a cupboard full of Ho-Hos.

I felt like an imposter.

But was I?

Before I started writing for children and teens, I was a full-time poet. I wrote poetry. I taught poetry. I studied poetry. I had an MA in American Literature, an MFA in poetry writing, and was nearly finished with my PhD in English. Poetry was my thing. Then, through an error in scheduling or perhaps a death, the university where I was teaching had a course crisis. They needed somebody to teach a section of Survey of Children’s Literature to secondary education majors. Classes would start in a week. They asked me. Me? Me. Would I? Could I? I wasn’t sure. But I said Yes. Call it a life strategy. Call it a default response. At that time in my life, I said Yes to almost everything. They gave me a syllabus. The amount of reading ahead of me felt like a cross between a dare and a threat.  

I spent the next year reading dozens and dozens of children’s books. Poetry got put on hold. I was in love. I loved Katherine Paterson. I loved Lois Lowry. I loved Natalie Babbitt. I loved Christopher Paul Curtis. I couldn’t stop reading children’s books. And this is how my writing life for young readers started. After reading and reading and reading, I began to crave books that didn’t exist yet. I began to crave stories that I would have to write.

Do I wish that I’d read better books growing up? Yes. But it’s never too late to read good books.


1 comment:

  1. "It’s never too late to read good books." Agreed.

    Also, Mickey did a pretty good job scaling that beanstalk!