“Do you believe our world will always have wars? Put up your hand if you believe that.”
About half the audience raised their hands. Canadian children’s author Deborah Ellis surveyed the two hundred writers and illustrators of children’s books gathered in front of her and said bluntly, “Those of you who have your hands raised have no business writing books for children. If you believe we can’t end war in our world you should not be creating books for children. And you also shouldn’t be teachers.”
I was attending a conference for children’s writers and illustrators in Toronto on the Remembrance Day weekend and Deborah Ellis was delivering the final keynote address. She certainly didn’t pull any punches. She told us what we believe in our hearts will come through in our writing and our writing needs to reflect a hope that our world can be a better place; that the sins of the past do not have to be the sins of the future.
Deborah told us the books of our childhood are the ones we read over and over and over again and those childhood books are the ones our children will remember long into the future. We need to make sure those books encourage kids to be kind, to care for our planet, to act in a peaceful way, to be better people.
Deborah also had little sympathy for how incredibly difficult it is to get a children’s book published these days. Getting published shouldn’t be our motivation for writing. Deborah referred to a scene from the movie Julia where two authors Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman are in conversation about writing and Lillian is complaining about the difficulty of finishing a manuscript. Hammett tells her to stop whining. If she wants to quit writing she should quit but if she doesn’t want to quit she should just write.
Deborah said we should be writing because we need to and want to. If we truly want to write we should just write, with or without affirmation. “Don’t be an ass about it!” she chastized us. She reminded us that not everyone has an opportunity or the ability to write. We do. So we should be grateful and not whine.
Deborah has spent her career writing books about children in the most difficult of circumstances. Books like……….The Cat At the Wall- about a Palestinian boy living in a small house on the West Bank in Israeli occupied territory, The Breadwinner about a young girl who impersonates a boy to help her family survive in war torn Afghanistan, No Ordinary Day about an orphan on the streets of Jharia India and No Safe Place about an illegal immigrant teenager from Baghdad in a refugee community in Calais France. Deborah has donated over a million dollars in royalities from her books to organizations that help children in crisis around the world.
Deborah practices what she preaches so it is pretty hard to criticize her. She gave us a ‘kick in the butt’ at the end of the conference. I for one needed it and appreciated it and it made me leave the conference even more determined to keep on writing !
Other posts about the CANSCAIP conference in Toronto………