The stories may be old, but the way we write today had changed, and is changing still.
I meet once a month with a group of educators and writers who are passionate about children’s literature. We read contemporary and classic books. Next month’s book is over a hundred years old now, Kenneth Grahame’s THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.
The answer to the first is a resounding YES, at least for me. The cozy comforts and mini-stormy tantrums of the many animals of the riverbank, occasionally spilling into the deep woods, have the same feeling I fondly remember.
The answer to the second, I’m afraid, is negative. I think this beautiful book, still beloved by young readers today, could not have been accepted by contemporary editors, and would have been used as an example of how not to write in how-to books. It breaks many of the so-called good writing rules.
For one, Grahame didn’t shy away from using adjectives and adverbs. His tales are episodic. The crises are resolved quickly before they have a chance to build up. The main characters don’t change, and in addition— they are not animal stand-ins for children, but decidedly adults, and vendee British old fogies at that. When they relax they not only feast by the fireplace, but have a good smoke. The tales are filled with rich descriptive passages, and no hesitation to tell, not show.
And yet this is a gorgeous book. The writing is lyrical and lovely. It holds together as few do.
Today’s readers have many other options to entertain them. Writers do not have the luxury of slow buildups, lavish descriptions, and occasional meanderings. All true. And yet…
I would suggest that we re-examine some of the rules we think make good storytelling. At the very least, we need not follow them slavishly.