Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > Cultivate Your Inner Child at the Talbot County Free Library
Sometimes I wonder why they do it, the children's book authors. There can't be much money in it. With the possible exception of Dr. Seuss, I doubt any author ever got rich writing for an audience of five-year-olds. Nonetheless, every year, a multitude of new children's books appears on the market. Why do you suppose that is?
The last ten years of his life my father slowly faded away from us, becoming more and more a victim of the Alzheimer's that eventually would separate him from us entirely. I can still remember the last time I showed him an x-ray, asked the once-brilliant doctor to interpret it for me. It was a picture of my left knee, and I'd handed it to him on a whim, certain he would no longer be able to make anything of its vague lights and menacing shadows. But the surprise of seeing something he couldn't have seen in a long time must have shaken something loose in Dad, for, momentarily, he was his old self, describing pathological processes as confidently as he would have in his forties or fifties. Then, as if some deep dark drain had suddenly sucked all knowledge from his mind, confusion clouded his face. “I'm not sure,” he said hesitantly, handing the picture back to me, “you know ... it's been a long time.”
Till the very end though, two apparently unrelated skills never left my father. Set Dad down before a jumble of puzzle pieces and, within an hour or two (much faster than I could), he would connect them up into a perfect picture. I always attributed this ability to Dad's native talent for pattern-recognition, the very skill that had made him an excellent diagnostician, but thinking about it now, thinking about the other skill that, even at the end, never left him ... well, I wonder.
Some of us are fortunate enough to retain, throughout our grown-up lives, something of childhood's innocence, the ability to look at each day as if it were the first, as if we were great explorers sent out to unearth life's charms. Naturally enough, children are drawn to such adults, just as such adults are, in turn, drawn to them. My father came alive in the company of children. Small ones he bounced on his knee, mid-sized ones received his genius for made-up games and wild speculation, while adolescents brought out the great listener in him. But with all of them, he told stories. Toward the end, of course, Dad could no longer wind out a tale that would hold an adolescent's attention, but small children still reveled in my father's ability to weave a perfectly plausible story out of whatever implausible, unlikely elements they happened to supply.
And maybe that explains it. Maybe that's why children's book authors, despite the challenges, despite the limited rewards, continue to churn out colorful, inventive tales of mice that talk, water babies that sing, and horses that fly. Maybe it's because, as with a jigsaw puzzle, there is something immensely satisfying about taking a jumble of seemingly unrelated parts and bringing them together into an unexpectedly coherent whole. And of course seeing a child delight in what you've created for them—especially if you retain a childish sense of wonder yourself—well, there can't be much better.
On Saturday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Talbot County Free Library will host the third annual Chesapeake Children's Book Festival. This year's festival is being staged as part of our community's ongoing commemoration of Frederick Douglass's bicentennial. For this reason, the event will be held in Easton's Waterfowl Building, across the street from the Academy Art Museum where the annual Juneteenth festivities will be taking place. So it should be a pretty exciting day for children (as the song would have it) from one to ninety-two. There will be food vendors and music. Award-winning children's book author Carole Boston Weatherford will give the keynote address. And throughout the day, thirty-plus children's book authors will share stories and tickle everyone's fancy.
Of all the library's programs and events, the Children's Book Festival may well be my favorite. I'm always pretty busy, but, whenever I have a spare moment, I try to fade into the background and just watch the little ones interacting with their favorite authors—the upraised faces, the looks of unabashed awe and wonder, the reciprocal looks of affection and care from the authors. It always brings back memories of Dad.
Contact Us | | | Library News