Wednesday, June 14, 2006

P.L. Travers on Not Writing for Children

A query from a journalist about her “general ideas on literature for children, [her] aims and purposes, and what led [her] to the field,” provoked the following response from P.L. Travers:

I told him that it was a strong belief of mine that I didn’t write for children at all, that the idea simply didn’t enter my head. I am bound to assume, of course, that there is such a field—I hear about it so often—but I wonder if it is a valid one or whether it has not been created less by writers than by publishers and booksellers. I am always astonished when I see books labeled for “From 5 to 7” or “From 9 to 12” because who is to know what child will be moved by what book and at what age? Who is to be the judge?


These matters, I submit, have nothing to do with the label “From 5 to 7”; they have nothing to do with age at all, unless they refer to all ages. Nor have they anything to do with that other label, “Literature for Children,” which suggests that this is something different from literature in general, something that pens off both child and author from the mainstream of writing. This seems to me hard both on children and on literature. For if it is literature at all, it can’t help being all one river and you put into it, according to age, a small foot or a large one. When mine was a small foot, I seem to remember that I was grateful for books that did not speak to my childishness, books that treated me with respect, that spread out the story just as it was—Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for instance—and left me to deal with the matter as well as I could.

From P.L.Travers, “I Never Wrote for Children” (1978); reprinted in Ellen Dooling Draper & Jenny Koralek, eds., Lively Oracle: A Centennial Celebration of P.L. Travers Creator of Mary Poppins (1999).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Travers' views resonate with me. My dad was a miltary officer charged with de-commissioning the occupation forces from Japan in the late 1940s. He brought all the dumped library books home and I, at the age of 10 onwards, read them all. It changed my life.