AUTHOR AUDREY PENN Guest Post –
At one point, I had three children at home with a dog, a tortoise, and a horse. Need I say more?
I have always been interested in my surroundings. I would listen to conversations, many times uninvited. I would watch my friends play and write about it in my journal. In acting school we were encouraged to imitate people, just not get caught doing it. But the acting exercise allowed me to walk in other people’s shoes.
When I write, I call upon all of these life lessons. I am able to recall sounds, smells, feel, appearance, and taste. When I rewrite, my very favorite part of writing, I use these tactile experiences to construct a believable character. Even if the mother is a raccoon, she will follow the rules of motherhood everywhere. Mothers know the value of touch, of listening, of watching.
I try and write from the child’s perspective at all times. I wish those who review children’s literature would do the same. But so many adults, teachers, and parents tell me that they have had their own memories or childhood situations brought back by the characters in my books - I am positively delighted by this. We forget as adults that children can’t see above the wall in front of the walrus tank at the zoo. Their little faces see only cement until we remember and lift them up. That is what children’s literature should do. Stories should remember the perspective of a child and then lift them up.
I took my four-year-old son to the park where there was a small train that took us for a ride through the forest. We had been on this train many times, but this time the train stopped mid-way through the ride.
The engineer told us that an animal was on the railroad tracks and was disinclined to leave. He said he had to go and fetch a park ranger to shoo it away, and we were not to leave the train.
When the engineer was out of sight, I made it very clear to my son he was not to leave the train. But, I am a children’s writer. The thought of seeing a deer resting on the train tracks, holding up seventy people, would make a very funny story. So I very carefully and quietly tiptoed up front to see the deer.
Suddenly, I was faced with a huge raccoon standing on her hind legs clicking at me. I was terrified. I knew when dealing with a wild animal to look down and back away slowly, so that is what I did. In doing so, I saw the tiniest baby raccoon I have ever seen standing by his mother’s side. I was awestruck. I was spellbound and could not take my eyes off the cub.
All at once, the mother got down off her hind legs and took her cub’s hand in her own. She opened his tiny hand, bent down, and nuzzled his palm. The cub then put his hand on his face. My eyes welled with tears. I had just seen a human mother smack her tiny son’s legs for not keeping up and here, in the forest, a mother raccoon gave so much love, so much attention, so much gentleness to her cub I had to ask myself, which one of the mothers was more understanding. I knew then what my writing would be for the rest of my life. I wanted to inspire a loving connection between parent and child in every book.
I never meant for The Kissing Hand to be a series. I was just hoping a child, and parent or guardian, would share the experience of a kissing hand, thus, making this wonderful connection.
Years later, I was watching my great niece and nephew bicker over a chair. Then I remembered. Sibling rivalry. My mother told me, when she brought me home from the hospital my brother was standing on the sidewalk with his hands on his hips and asked, “Can you take her back?” Thus, the first question Chester Raccoon asks in A Pocket Full of Kisses when facing a younger brother.
A Kiss Goodbye offers hope and friendship at the end of every new path whether it’s stepping up to a different grade or moving to a new town.
Each book that has been added to the series is based on stories I have heard, things I have experienced, or just things going on in the world. Even my latest book, Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover, is based on my niece Ila’s tale of her first “disastrous” sleepover. As long as children are involved, I want to tell them they can find friendship and comfort inside the pages of a book.
Audrey Penn takes her one-woman educational program, the Writing Penn, into schools, libraries, and children’s hospitals where she shapes and refines her story ideas in partnership with kids. She is also highly sought after as a conference keynote speaker by groups of teachers and other professionals who work with children. In addition to her Kissing Hand series of books, Audrey is also the author of the Blackbeard series for middle readers, and several other picture books. Connect with Audrey on Facebook