Writing for Children: not for those who want glory, fame, or big bucks

Last week’s Hamodia/Inyan Magazine had an article by one of my favorite columnists, Rabbi Fishel Schachter entitled “Guided by Tale Winds.” While today Rabbi Schachter is well-known in the Torah world for essays and presentations for adults about the weekly Torah portion, parenting, and other subjects, he first gained popularity as a rebbi and storyteller to students in Jewish day schools.

Rabbi Schachter explains in the article that one of the adults in his audience told him many years ago that he had to choose between teaching grown-ups or kids — and he indicated that the natural choice for a man of Rabbi Schachter’s talent and intelligence was to teach adults.

Turning to his own rebbi for guidance, Rabbi Schachter asked if teaching kids was really beneath him? Were all the silly voices and so on undermining his stature?

The rabbi told Rabbi Schachter that if his concern is for his own dignity and stature, then he should cease the storytelling for children, but that so long as his concern is for the Almighty, he should continue and feel that his work is not only far from beneath him, but truly important.

A serious business

This essay really spoke to me. Writing for children earns writers less money. Teaching children earns less money than virtually every other job that requires similar levels of education and responsibility. Both professions contain less prestige than the equivalent jobs that serve adults. Once, an acquaintance told a mutual friend that my interest and attentiveness to children meant I was immature (don’t ask why the friend thought it was appropriate to share this with me).

More than once, I’ve thought about quitting writing for kids altogether. The pay is shvach (terrible). Some people think I’m cute instead of a serious professional.

But then something happens…

When I see what an enormous impact a story can make to a child, it makes all the difference.

Back to the essay by Rabbi Fishel Schachter: He relates that once he made a storytelling visit to a particular school, and his usual stories, which usually mesmerized the students in the audience, fell flat. Praying for inspiration, he decided that rather than delivering a reprimand, he’d change tactics. Instead of playing for laughs, he told a devastating story about a child who was seriously ill.

The audience fell silent. But later, Rabbi Schachter worried that he’d made a mistake telling such a dark story to the children, albeit a story with a meaningful insight into what makes a meaningful life. His concerns lifted when he received a phone call telling him that one of the children in the audience had desperately needed to hear the message in the story.

Some jobs look “light.” They’re “cute.” Fine. But if you are doing your work not because it’s fun, not because it’ll make you money, and not because of YOU, but because of a desire to serve those around you, G-d will send you the means to make a serious difference…no matter how silly the people around you might think your job is.

Have you ever done something small in your professional life that made a meaningful impression on a client, reader, patient, etc.? Please share it in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Writing for Children: not for those who want glory, fame, or big bucks

  1. I actually have a lot of respect for people who teach, work with, or write for children. Working with or writing for children requires an understanding of developmental stages. What language is appropriate, what content is fitting for that age. Creativity and out of the box thinking is required. Dr. Seuss, curious George, Eric Carle, and all the classics. EB white. Come on! These were geniuses. Excellence is excellence. A person should work within their specialty and try to be the best. That’s all.

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  2. I haven’t finished reading this yet because I’m MORTIFIED by the ridiculous (and apparently somewhat popular) thought that teaching children involves being “cute” or anything nearly that flippant. I challenge anyone who thinks that to try to teach ANYONE, ANYTHING. Good teaching is a very serious skill that takes years to develop. Burying those lessons in compelling, creative writing is even more daunting. I’ve written creatively and I’ve taught children. I’ve yet to attempt to merge the two, partially because of the attention I know that challenge would require. Part of me is tempted to continue, but it would just be ranting at people who are probably not going to read this. So I’ll stop and go back. But … HMPH!

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  3. Having read Rabbi Shechter’s article, I will share what resonated with me. The importance of feedback is even more pivotal to the writer than the speaker. A speaker can sense the mood in the room, hear the level of applause, and get instant verbal responses in person. A writer needs to hear reactions of readers. And all of us know that letters are few and far between. Lately, I have been finding myself reaching out to readers in print and asking for feedback. When people come over and say they enjoy my writing, I now follow up with a question. What do you like about it? Why does it appeal to you? After reading Rabbi Shechter and Becca K., I feel validated instead of insecure in asking for comments and reactions. I have learned in my professional life that people in public life change people’s lives. But they rarely hear it. So I try to give it and love getting it.

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