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March 20, 2011

Adults as Children, Children as Adults

Someone smart whose name I forget said that the best way to deal with children is to treat them as adults, and the best way to deal with adults is to treat them like children.

In his masterpiece, Las Meninas, the artist portrays his subjects from their own view.

The picture is full of other royals, nobles and servants, all described here.  Young children keep the king and queen company, entertaining them during the long, dull process of sitting for a portrait.

A college professor of mine was once asked whether he liked children. He said this was like asking someone if they liked a particular ethnicity or gender. In other words, not all kids are the same, because not all people are the same.

For a long time, I thought the child on the right was rather special:

Sometimes it helps to write for a particular audience, because as my professor said, kids aren't the same.I don't write for all kids aged 10-12. Murukami said if only 1 out of 10 customers came back to his bar, that 1customer is the one he had to cater to. I write for kids who can't put down books. There aren't as many these days, but it doesn't matter.  This child in Velásquez's work represented the 1 child I wrote for as opposed to the other 9.

There was something special about this kid. He seems serious about playfulness: patient, thoughtful, and noble. If there had been flashlights back then, I bet he would have used them to read after bedtime. Maybe he even risked candles. This was my audience.

Last winter I saw Velásquez's painting up close and decided to find out who this inspiring young child was.

The child in question is described in detail:

To the right of the Infanta are two dwarfs, [including] the Italian, Nicolas Pertusato (5), who playfully tries to rouse a sleepy mastiff with his foot.

This child was actually the inner child of an adult, playing with a dog like a wise man. He was a prince within a king --a child within  an adult .

I'd been writing for an adult in the pleasant disguise of childhood. And maybe that sums up good kids literature.

The best children's entertainment is what Hollywood calls a four quadrant product, because it appeals to all the major demographics of a household--children and adults alike.

If we write for the mature, wise centers of our young readers, we cannot help but reach the children in adults too.


Blythe Woolston said...

This is wonderful and revelatory. Thank you.

Philip Isles said...

Some more responses on Nathan Bransford


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