Antoine de Saint Exupéry once wrote in Le Petit Prince, “All grown-ups were once children…but only few of them remember it.” Well I’m one of those lucky few. (Not that I’m a grown up per say.)
When I was a child I was fluent in a special language (one of my favourites to this day) called GOBBLEFUNK, the brain child of Roald Dahl. Dahl loved to twist and turn the English language to create strange and interesting words which he used in his writing.
So I can easily say I svolloped (destroyed) all of Roald Dahl’s books, reading them over and over, till my copies no longer resembled their pristine form. I lived in the world he created, full of oompa-loompas, vermicious knids, time twiddlers and blabbersnitches. I remember sitting up late in my bed, hiding under the sheets using a flashlight to read the BFG and George’s Marvelous Medicine way past my bed time, my gogglers (eyes) unable to be pried away from the pages. Then I went to sleep and had ringbellers (excellent dreams) about phizzwhizzle and whizzpopping. Who would ever want to wake up? Not me, that’s for certain.
Except as the years go by, the shelves pile up with bigger books with much bigger words and one day I did wake up….
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
There goes the sound of my alarm, waking me up after living in the land of dreams. And then I look around myself and think, “Oh no! I’m living in the ADULT WORLD!” It’s a scary place where all we do is splatch-wink (rush around in a hurry) without realising why we’re splatch-winking. What’s my first thought? I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE!
So what do I do?
Head for the time machine, that’s what.
Master of the Time Machine
There is a time machine I know of
Without buttons and gears as such
It presents a world of wonder
A world I wish to visit
Oh so very much
Some adults refuse to leave the land of childhood and those are the best kind. If I had to pick one children’s author to call my favourite it would most definitely be Roald Dahl. Despite the fact that he was a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force and having seen the worst, he could still come back from the anarchy of war and write books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (now also a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp), The Twits, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox and many others. Dahl had his own writing hut where the all the magic happened and I can safely say that it was from this very hut that the essence of my childhood was captured and cultivated from.
Reading Roald Dahl as a child is a way of living in the present. But reading Roald Dahl at the age of eighteen is way of revisiting the past. Forget the gadgetry and automated notions of time machines. If you’ve got a Roald Dahl book in your hand, you’re all set to take a trip down memory lane.
So I’m right here about to get a ticket to my childhood. There’s only one problem… I always get asked the same old pesky question. “Why don’t you grow up?”
To which I reply with the same old answer…
“Why should I?”
The Scrumdiddlyumptious Art of Writing for Children
Never tell me it’s immature to read children’s books at this age. I’ll read them even when I’m in my eighties.
The fact is that children literature is the foundation upon which young readers catapult themselves into the depths of adult novels and other forms of literature. If I had never read my first book, Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, I may never have discovered my passion for reading and writing. From Dr. Seuss’ picture books to Roald Dahl’s chapter books, the transition starts.
Children literature is widely underappreciated, not being given its due importance. And that’s just buggles (absolutely crazy). We grow up and forget about the books that made us who we are today and it’s a shame.
Many are under the illusion that just about anyone can write a novel for kids. In fact, they could not be more wrong. It is far more difficult to write a book catering to children than one catering to people your own age. Just try it. I dare you.
Write a story for children in not more than a couple of hundred words. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
Here’s the gist of what needs to be considered when writing for kids:
- Strip back the decadent language. This isn’t the place to use studies for affectation or ornament.
- Brevity is key and hence one must learn to pick and choose the right and best words to narrate the tale.
- The sentence structure and vocabulary should appeal to young readers and must be written in such a way that kids can understand it. Otherwise it’s all moot.
- Write in such a manner so as to foster a sense of anticipation in the child. Make them cry, “Mommy what happens next?” when their mothers read it to them at bedtime.
- Lastly, use evocative and rich words that paint a picture in the child’s mind, sparking their imagination. Imagery is essential, after all.
Not quite so easy is it? Yet Roald Dahl makes it sound like a piece of cake when he said, “You can write about anything for children as long as you’ve got humour.”
To write a book for children, you’ll have to be twice as creative and more than half mad. It’s all about pushing boundaries and maybe eliminating them altogether. Anyone can write about the real world, simply because we live, eat and breathe in it. It takes a whole lot more talent to create your own world where reason is an outcast and write about it.
So never under estimate the power of a children’s author. You never know what’s going on in their head. That’s the beauty of it.
And the only way to experience the author’s world is getting into the time machine. So I take one step forward and what do you know…I’m inside.
The Arranged Marriage between Pictures and Words
The time machine starts off with a clap and a bang and soon enough I’m whizzing off to the 90’s. There are all sorts of images outside the windows, flitting past.
Let me start off by asking if you are one of those people who picture everything you read in your head, making your own mental movie out of the book. Well illustrations help the kids out with that.
Yet make no mistake, they’re not merely there to make the book more goggler-catching. Pictures happen to contribute to the multi-sensory experience of reading.
Once an imaginative world has been conceptualised, the author makes strenuous effort to distill and condense while the illustrator takes equal pains to expand, translate the words into pictures, conveying exactly what the author intends.
The relation between an author and an illustrator is rather symbiotic in nature. Just take Roald Dahl and illustrator Quentin Blake for example. The two names go hand in hand. Blake has the distinct ability to use a few strokes to express a panorama of emotion and activity.
For the BFG, Blake initially drew the giant wearing large boots but neither Dahl nor himself were pleased with the way the illustrations looked. So what did Dahl do? He sent him a scrappy old sandal and voila! Blake was inspired to draw the BFG with sandals instead. Clearly the two worked well together as demonstrated by their partnership enduring nineteen books. Their collaboration ended in 1990 due to the unfortunate passing of Roald Dahl.
I can boldly say that the stories would have been incomplete without Quentin Blake’s masterful illustrations.
Stepping out of the Time Machine
The trip’s been great and I’m back. It might have felt too short but any time at all is more than enough. There’s only so much time one can spend in the past before being jolted back into the present. That isn’t to say that the past cannot be imbibed within the present.
So, take the time to just be a kid. Don’t let the muggles tell you otherwise because sometimes we suffer from temporary moments of insanity when everything seems to make sense. So truly, in madness lies a sense of truth and clarity. This is the magical world of children literature encompassing madness and morality.
So make no mistake, if you’re re reading Roald Dahl and the gobblefunk throws you off (there is also a Gobblefunk Dictionary in case you need it) remember what the BFG said to Sophie, “Meanings is not important.” Just have fun with it.
There’s a little kid inside everyone so please don’t forget about them. After all, they just want to come out and play. Even if for a little bit. Give them their time of day. You won’t regret it.
I solemnly swear.