Memoir Writing in Children's Literature
I remember my childhood rather vividly. When I’m able to sit still and block out the noise of adulthood with all its realism, responsibility, and disillusionment, I can hear the faint laughter of six-year-old Debbie playing in her room with her dolls conducting class or even twirling around like a ballerina on a stage with her stuffed animals as her enthusiastic audience. I remember the questions I used to ask. The constant “whys” and “hows” and the instant excitement I felt when I was told or discovered the answer. And if I’m really still, I can tap into the imagination that took me on all sorts of wonderous adventures that transformed my room into a jungle, my closet into a cave, and beneath my covers into outer space. My mind was a wide-open vessel filled with endless possibilities. I love listening to six-year-old Debbie (as I preferred to be called then). She reminds me of what was, and what can still be. In these quiet moments of reflection, I want to preserve the memories so I write them down. These memoirs have always been therapeutic for me and a way to connect with my son and nieces and nephews when they were really young to show them that I still remember and that they are not alone.
And that’s why I love writing for children. Though that time of my life is seemingly lost forever, I have found a way to capture that childhood exuberance and connect with children on a deeper level. In transforming my memoirs for a younger audience, I am afforded the opportunity to enter their world to think as they do and see things the way they see them. Of course, what better character to use to tell my stories, than six-year-old Debbie, affectionately renamed Zorah. She connects my past to the present and beyond. Through her, I am able to give children a voice and empower them to choose a life and career that is fulfilling and brings out the best in them. I can share the lessons I learned as a child on how to be brave when paralyzed by fear. I can connect with children whose pet is not only their best friend but a beloved member of their family.
Children’s books can also be memoirs that capture your family's history. My book Summer Island allowed me to dig deep and recall the sights, sounds, and smells of my time in the Caribbean visiting my Granny and family. As a first-generation American, these memories if not preserved, would inevitably be lost in the watered-down versions of our lineage. But through Summer Island, I have been able to share our family history, culture, and heritage with the next generation and hopefully with generations to come. Likewise, other Caribbean-born parents and first gens like me have been delighted to read the book to their children and recall their time on their own “summer island”. It sparked a deeper conversation with their children who wanted to hear more of their parents' own visits with “Granny” and island adventures.
This is the power of memoirs in children’s literature. It is a way to reset the clock, enabling an author to capture memories of their youth to dive into the world and mind of a child, yet retrospectively impart wisdom. It can be a vehicle to connect generations, stimulate dialogue, and even impress upon a child that they are not alone.