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...I write for the child I was and the child I still am. Like countless other lucky adults, I have much in common with children. We daydream, wonder, exaggerate, ask "what if?"--and what we imagine sometimes is more true than what is. We like to play with squishy things--mud, clay, dough, words--and we make stuff out of them. We like kids, animals, rain puddles, and pizza, and dare to love silly things. We don't like Brussels sprouts, the dentist, or books with great long passages of description, flashbacks, or dream sequences. We like happy endings - or at least, hope. And we love stories.

As a child I wrote constantly but never thought about growing up to be a writer... We didn't own many books; in school I suffered through basal readers, but before long I discovered the library. Then chances were if I could reach it, I would read it... Writers, I began to think, were people who had all the answers. I didn't have all the answers; I didn't even know all the questions. So I stopped writing, for a very long time, and for years endured the painful search for a place to belong. Some times were great, some empty and awful, but there was always something missing.

Finally, the day my daughter began filling out college applications, I sat down to write, for myself. I still didn't have the answers, but I began to know some of the questions: why? what for? what if? how would it be?

Writing was still hard work - hard to begin, hard to stop. But it also became a passion, and that made all the difference. "To sum it all up," Ray Bradbury said, "if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling... I wish for you a wrestling match with your creative muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories . . . Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days and out of that love, remake a world."

I read that, and I said, "Yes." And out of my passion came Catherine, Called Birdy, my first book. I wrote it despite my own doubts and the "don'ts" of others, because I needed to find out about things, about identity and responsibility, compassion and kindness and belonging, and being human in the world. How could I learn them if I didn't write about them?

...As children are what they eat and hear and experience, so too they are what they read. This is why I write what I do, about strong young women who in one way or another take responsibility for their own lives; about tolerance, thoughtfulness, and caring; about choosing what is life-affirming and generous; about the ways that people are the same and the ways they are different and how rich that makes us all.

Katherine Paterson, whose books, both fiction and nonfiction, have inspired me more than I can say, wrote, "It is not enough simply to teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations--something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own." ...

"The goal of storytellers," Russian poet Kornei Chukovsky wrote," ... consists of fostering in the child, at whatever cost, compassion and humaneness--this miraculous ability of man to be disturbed by another being's misfortunes, to feel joy about another being's happiness, to experience another's fate as one's own."

Such is the importance of stories. This is why I write. And what can be more important in this world?


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