Thursday, May 27, 2010

What we forget

At SLJ's "Day of Dialog" this week, I was part of a panel about so-called "tweens" - who they are, how we can serve them as librarians, and why and how we write books for them. (By the way, "tweens" is a word I don't much like, now that I know it was invented by the advertising industry to identify a new target group.)

Our moderator, Vicky Smith of Kirkus, and my terrific co-panelists, authors Gennifer Choldenko, Tim Green, Robie Harris, and the children's librarian Lisa von Drasek, gave me much to think about. At one point Lisa nudged me and showed me a poem by Billy Collins that she'd marked in a book. It's wonderfully true (in my experience), and I thought I'd share it here.

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Billy Collins


Chazley Dotson said...

Hi! I just found your blog and thought I would say hello. I read First Light when it first came out and loved the imaginative world you created. I've googled it now and then, hoping for a sequel! I'm saving When You Reach Me for vacation reading, when I have time to focus again. Congratulations on the Newbery!

Anonymous said...

I'm almost done with When You Reach Me and it is super good! I just discovered Rebecca Stead's website after trying to find when the next teen reads is at my library, and at what time it is. The book for this month is When You Reach Me. How ironic! When You Reach Me is my first Rebecca Stead book, I think. I read so many books I usually can't keep track of the author. Point is, I love Rebecca Stead as an author!

Mike Lewis said...


I'm so glad you chose to share this idea. It's important to try our best to understand this incredible age group. I work with ten year olds and am amazed everyday by what powerful thinkers they are.

Thank you for creating work that encourages them to wonder.

I love that you posted this Billy Collins poem. His work is the hallmark of my poetry unit. I love this one:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rebecca,

Thus summer my class read your book and we loved it! Any advice you can share would be great! Thanks!