Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 6, 2010

Breaking the Lines

Part of my job as a professor of Children’s Literature is to show students the parameters of the field. What’s been done, and also a glimpse of what lines have been stretched or broken. I sometimes forget about those stretched or split lines in waving about many wonderful books. Read this! Look deeper into that! The word “classic” does get used, with its suggestion of bars and boundaries.

The other day after class, a student lingered to talk about a novel she hoped to write as a final project. She named a bunch of characters and some fairly wild things she hoped to put them through. “That sounds great,” I said, “but you might find once you get going, you’ll want to leave out some of those characters. And a synopsis and chapter or two is fine. You don’t have to write a whole novel by the end of April.”

The creative young woman nodded as she listened to the Voice of Reason. Which would be me. Or me in disguise? At least I didn’t try to tone down her extravagant ideas. Some may be outlandish, and these may fail, or need to be tweaked, or be wildly successful. I loved her bravado and towering goals, even while waving my little warning sign. She mentioned plot twists I’ve never seen done in children’s literature, but who’s to say they can’t be done? It had better not be me.

And I’m trying to bring my pried open mind to my writing, and take a few more risks. To feel as if I’m at the beginning not just of a story, but at the beginning of my career when I didn’t know all the rules. If you catch me with a warning sign this weekend, feel free to pry it from my hand. I just want to run.



  1. This made me smile. Thank you. Keep those hands free for typing!

  2. You have probably met this student. Or one like her. They do keep us smiling.
    It’s starting to get warm! Hope you enjoy watching some snow melt this weekend! xo

  3. Sometimes –because of circumstances or the roles we play — we have to be the Voice of Reason. Good on you, for not crushing her creative exuberance. And hurray, that you’re allowing yourself the same freedoms. It’s much more fun to run around the field than hold the whistle. 🙂

  4. This is wonderful. I think we forget that each time we start over, we SHOULD start over–somehow weaving that newness into the craft stuff we have learned and want to use. Go. Run. 🙂

  5. Melodye, thank you for sending the tail-wagging dalmations. They are just what I need!
    And I love the encouragement to drop the whistle and run across the field. Maybe especially since this may be the first time anyone has put me within a sports metaphor!

  6. Thanks, Becky. Gosh, Melodye had me running and now you. Perhaps I am conjuring more energy than I feel. Or maybe it really is there… thanks for the friendly push.

  7. Way, way into your career you won’t know the rules either. I’m still learning, too!

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