By Anne Fleming
Like many readers and writers, I read a lot as a kid. Day, night, summer, winter, I read. I melted the top of my clock radio from bending the light down so my parents wouldn’t see light leaking beneath the door. Until age thirteen, I read mostly children’s books. After thirteen, I read mostly adult books. Reminds me of the guy at the Lego store, who referred to 14 to 20 as “the dark ages,” when kids stop thinking they like Lego and before they realize again how cool it is.
In late university, I took an Arthurian legend lit course, which introduced me to Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. (Actually, it only introduced me to the first book. But there was no not reading the others once I’d read the one.) I’ve read children’s books on and off ever since. A delicious side effect of my dark ages is that afterward I had a whole decade-long treasury of unread classics to feast on. Diana Wynne Jones, for example. Phillip Pullman.
When I started writing, which was around about the same time I took that Arthurian legend course, I always had it in the back of my mind to write for children some day. But any small attempts I made at it were terrible. I think the reason is that I was still a child, by which I mean I was still working too hard at being an adult.
What I think about children’s books and adult books now, after several decades of reading them side by side, is that they are different and they are not different. The best children’s books have as much complexity, as deeply enduring themes and concerns, as delicious line-by-line writing, as much audacity and verve as the best fiction for adults. Plus: story. Always.
The Goat didn’t start as a book. It started as a story written and emailed to my kid each day I was away at a conference in New York. That is, it started spontaneously and freely, with no expectations as to its becoming a book. It started out directed at a specific kid, who might find bits of it funny. It is how I have to keep reminding myself to approach the next books—I have novels for adults and children both underway. Be free. Be idiosyncratic. Be giddy. Don’t contain.