Clearing the Cobwebs

By way of introduction, I’m Naomi Kinsman. If you were sitting across a table from me, I might tell you that my favorite dessert is chocolate lava cake, my favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, and if I could build my clubhouse anywhere in the world, I would build it on board a train, with one boxcar dedicated to floor to ceiling bookshelves and windowseats, one car filled with a swimming pool, and one car stocked with art supplies of every texture and color.

My answer to the question, “Why do you write middle grade fiction?” begins with a story.

On Monday, one of my Inklings students, an excellent 5th grade writer, told me:

"At my vacation house near the beach, I found this weird hole near the cliffs. When I looked inside, I saw a light at the bottom, and I thought... what if it is a magical world? What if I could just climb down and be somewhere totally different?"

So I asked her, "Did you go in?"

She said, “Are you kidding?”

I’ve thought a lot about our conversation this week. In other Inklings classes, I have asked students what they would do if they saw a rain puddle or an old-fashioned wardrobe or a telephone booth that looked like a magical doorway. Would they go through? After the immediate yes, they paused, thought about it, and then amended their answers, saying things like:

“Well, first I’d pack a backpack with a flashlight and some food and bandaids and stuff, but then I’d definitely go.”

“I think I would grab my best friend who lives across the street, and we’d go together.”

“Maybe I would leave a note first, just in case I couldn’t get back...”

Here is what I'm realizing: As an adult, I often wish I could go to Narnia or Hogwarts or Wonderland, but the place in my mind that actually believes I can travel to those places, believes it enough that I would pack a backpack before exploring a magical-looking hole, is becoming cobwebby.

I write for middle-grade readers because they clear out my cobwebs. Looking at the world through their eyes convinces me that impossibilities are not out of grasp. I learn that even when I face a monumental problem, a problem as unsolvable as two trains headed full-speed toward one another on the same track, a solution is possible. Believing isn’t a luxury. Believing is the first step to making the impossible come true.

I write both realistic fiction and fantasy, and when I think about it, I realize that both deal with impossibilities. Sometimes a young girl finding her place in a new town seems just as impossible as another girl dissolving into droplets of color, only to reappear in an alternate world. Writing helps me see magic in everyday experiences, and also gives me hope when I face huge challenges. Working with young writers helps me see just how much more I have to learn about courage and hope and imagination.

What about you? What if you turned a corner and came face-to-face with a shimmering gap in the air? Would you step through?


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  2. I remember thinking this exact thing as a kid, with an added stipulation: what if there was a countdown above the shimmering gap? What if you had only seconds to decide?

    I suppose the adult version of the question is this: can you imagine a situation in which you would instantly give up your old life, no questions asked, and with no guarantee of return or that anyone you loved would know what had happened to you?

    I've given this serious thought over the years, and my adult answer is still the same as my childhood one. Would I step through? Would I give everything up? Of course. Are you kidding?

  3. It depends on the day. Today? Absolutely. Another world sounds pretty darn good about now. But I'm sure tomorrow I'll feel perfectly satisfied with living where I am and simply writing about other (middle grade) people and worlds.

    Great blog, Naomi. Best wishes!

  4. Danette and Peter, my new answer to the question is that when I see the shimmering gap, I will call both of you and bring you with me. As long as I can cower behind you if we come face-to-face with an oversized spider.

  5. I think I'd grab a friend to go with me before I went.


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