Eli’s learned that trick of asking questions to keep us up later, or rather, to prevent himself from being put to sleep on time. Emma did it for a long time before we caught on, and now, I think we’re mostly too tired to protest and just make him go to sleep. Even more, he has learned to ask questions that will spark our interest. The other night he got talking with Bill about different kinds of seeds and how they are spread. If you know Bill, then you’ll know there’s nothing like talking plant biology to get him excited and going for a while.
I was putting him to bed last night and he started with, “Why don’t you write a kids book?”
Given the proper bait, I bit willingly.
“Tell me what you think makes a good book,” I said.
“Well, you should write a book like Beverly Cleary,” he said. “Like Ramona and Henry Huggins. Those are good books.”
“What makes them good?” I ask, wanting to know the winning secret of one of his favorite authors.
“They are about children who really, really, really want something. And then, they mess up when they try to get it,” he said.
“Oh?” I ask, wanting a little bit more.
“Well, yeah. They mess up, and they usually get what they wanted but not exactly the way they thought they might or how they thought. And sometimes, they don’t get what they want and it’s okay in the end.”
Eli has been awarded the family gift of gab, but I hadn’t realized until tonight that he also has the ability to think and speak succinctly and clearly in a way that I find rather amazing for his age. Okay, maybe I’m just another mom who’s in love with her child, so sue me. But, he nailed the essence of these wonderful books. The plots are simple and based in reality. No monsters jump out of the closet, no bad guys lurk around corners and magical tricks are non-existent. We talked longer about what makes a good story and what he likes in books. Sure, he enjoys the exciting Riordan Olympian series as well, but he keeps going back to Ramona and Henry like a comfy blanket. When I finally stumbled out of his room, leaving him asleep in the end, it was nearly 9:00, on a school night when he should be in bed by 8:00. The extra time was probably worth it because he was in such a good mood and so open with his ideas. He even slept in an extra forty-five minutes this morning to make up for the lost sleep.
It occurred to me after our conversation that I didn’t really know much about Beverly Cleary. I have a copy of “Socks” from my childhood that still sits on my shelf, so I knew she’d been around a while–not to mention her Ramona and Henry stories pre-date cable and there are paper routes involved. My best guess without looking at one of the books had her writing in the sixties and seventies. According to Wikipedia, she had gotten her start earlier than I had thought. She wrote one of the first Henry stories in 1950 and was actively writing for another fifty years. She’s won tons of awards and still lives in California. If I were to turn toward writing children’s fiction, I can’t think of many role models that would suit me more than Beverly Cleary.