from the collected notes of
Barbara Jean Hicks
I’ve rarely heard a writer speak with such heart and deep-down truth as Gary D. Schmidt (http://www.hmhbooks.com/schmidt/) did at the annual children’s literature conference at Western Washington University in early 2012. Gary is the author of two Newberry Honor middle grade novels, The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, as well as several other middle grade books. His thoughtful commentary left a deep impression.
It is Schmidt’s contention that our culture actively discourages kids from growing up, that it works hard to keep them at an adolescent stage because adolescents make good consumers. In opposition to this consumer culture, Schmidt writes coming-of-age stories, focused on a time in his characters’ lives when they are turning from childhood toward adulthood. The world is a messy place, he says, complex, painted in shades of gray, difficult to understand, and he doesn’t hide that from his readers.
Schmidt poses questions for his characters that resonate with his middle grade readers: What does it mean to grow up? How do I make the right choices? How do I live a life that’s authentic for me? How do I live side by side with someone who doesn’t look like me?
I was moved by Schmidt’s comments on the role of the writer in the world. Is it our job to create something beautiful? Absolutely. To impart wisdom and understanding? Yes. To help readers grow? Yes again. But writers who begin with these questions and answers are wrong, Schmidt says. The first question must be this: “Does the writing serve? Does it come from a place of love?”
A writer must take on the role of a servant and write out of love, Schmidt closed, and left us with a quote from Wordsworth: “What we love, others will love, and we will show them how.”
What we do as writers for children and adolescents matters. It was good to be reminded.