Friday, September 3, 2021

How to Mine Your Childhood for Story by Irene Latham

A writer's childhood can be fertile ground for story. And if you're a writer who writes for the children's market, it's essential you connect with the child-you.

For some, this comes naturally, easily. We all know those people who move through life with joy and exuberance, as if they never left childhood in the first place.

For others, revisiting childhood means re-experiencing painful memories. Not everyone wants to go back to the middle school lunchroom! But facing the where-should-I-sit (and other questions) is exactly the kind of courageous mining that's required, if a writer is to create emotionally true stories that will resonate with an audience who actually visits a middle school lunchroom every day.


I faced some of these head-on in my book with Charles Waters, DICTIONARY FOR A BETTER WORLD: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z. Each word we selected for our Dictionary includes a short memoir piece about our relationship and/or experience with the word on the spread. For instance, on the “Belonging” spread, I share about our family's mid-school-year move (4th grade) to yet another new town, and what happened when my mother offered to host a party for me to get to know my new classmates.


Other books like D-39: A ROBODOG'S JOURNEY feature elements of my childhood: a love of pets (and STAR WARS!), a parent's absence, relocation, and long days in nature.

Some of the writing I love best is 100% rooted in my actual childhood experiences. 

And some of the writing I'm still not brave enough to put on the page is from my actual childhood, too. Working on it...

5 Ways for Children's Book Creators to Connect with the Child Inside

1. Remember 3 favorite foods from childhood. Buy or prepare them, and enjoy!

2. Go through some old family photos. Ask the child-you: What did I love best about this day? What was the worst?

3. Maybe you liked climbing trees or making forts or going to the skating rink. Revisit (or recreate) a special place from your childhood.

4. Ask other family members to share something they remember about you as a child.

5. Dive back into whatever was your childhood obsession. For instance, use the internet and locate a copy of the favorite book or toy or game, and experience it again as an adult. Or, if you were a horse lover, visit a barn, go to a dude ranch, go on a trail ride...or go to Churchill Downs and Kentucky Horse Park like I did earlier this summer. :)

me watching a horse race
at Churchill Downs!

If you want more of this kind of exploration, try THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron.
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Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.

3 comments:

  1. A Wonderful post. I have some mining to do. Go my hardhat and my lamp. Ready!

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  2. Such great ideas! Especially the food suggestion. Brings back feelings of family and home.

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  3. I especially like tip #4. Sometimes you learn surprising things about how others saw you!

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