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Steve West - Adult stories in child-sized words

WORLD Radio - Steve West - Adult stories in child-sized words

Children’s books proclaim grown-up truth little people can understand

A woman searches for books for her children at the New York Public Library bookstore, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, in New York Kathy Willens/Associated Press Photo

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, August 17th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. The truth doesn’t need complicated language. Some good evidence of that now from WORLD commentator Steve West.


In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of-
The cow jumping over the moon.

Parents, how many times have you read the words of Goodnight Moon to children interested in deferring bedtime? I read it hundreds of times. Yet I suspect that book as well as some other children’s books have meant as much to you as to your children. That’s because their authors wrote true, adult stories using child-size words. They’re writing not for children but for themselves. They capture a child-like wonder in a few, musical words.

Take the author of Babar, Laurent de Brunhoff. A couple years ago, he completed his final book in the series.

“I like to make the elephant alive,” de Brunhoff told an interviewer. “The elephant is a very appealing animal with its big ears and trunk, even when it is not dressed up like a human.” De Brunhoff has been writing and drawing elephants since 1945, infected by an elephantine passion nurtured by his own father, who wrote the first Babar book in 1931. He is not trying to relate to children, to speak down to them. He’s addressing his love of elephants to them much as he would to adults, but with fewer and simpler words.

Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, wrote her books out of her own love of nature, a love nurtured by time spent among the giant live oaks, high dunes, and sea grass of Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Whenever I read the simple lines of Goodnight Moon, I’m comforted by the pleasing cadence, the sense of security conveyed by the particular, familiar things in the child's room, and the presence of the grandmotherly bunny waiting for the child to sleep. In Goodnight Moon, particular things matter immensely, things we pass over in everyday adult life. Things like "two little kittens, and a pair of mittens, and a little toy house, and a young mouse, and a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush."

Yet another book, I Love You Forever, deals with the weighty topics of familial love and mortality. In it, over the recurring chorus of, "I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be," the child grows and the parents age until, near the end of life, the child becomes the parent in a sense, the caregiver, and sings, "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my Mommy you'll be." That one made both me and my son cry.

Robert Munsch wrote the book after he and his wife had two stillborn babies. He later said, “For a long time I had it in my head and I couldn’t even sing it because every time I tried to sing it I cried. It was very strange having a song in my head that I couldn’t sing.”

You can't read I Love You Forever without a tear in your eye or a catch in your throat. But whatever you feel washes up on the shores of deep, abiding, family love.

Stories for adults with child-sized words.

I’m Steve West.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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Deb O

Steve West wrote my heart. I'm welcoming my first grandchild in January, and I cannot wait to begin to read to him. "Goodnight, Moon" and "I'll Love You Forever" are on my list from when my son was young. I'm a few states away, so it'll be over video chat ... but we can work with that. His name will be Max. Can you guess which book will be on his bookshelf first??