The Good Ones Last

The third way [to write for children], which is the only one I could ever use myself, consists in writing a children’s story because a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say: just as a composer might write a Dead March not because there was a public funeral in view but because certain musical ideas that had occurred to him went best into that form.

E. Nesbit’s trilogy about the Bastable family is a very good specimen of another kind. It is a ‘children’s story’ in the sense that children can and do read it: but it is also the only form in which E. Nesbit could have given us so much of the humours of childhood. … Sentimentality is so apt to creep in if we write at length about children as seen by their elders. And the reality of childhood, as we all experienced it, creeps out. For we all remember that our childhood, as lived, was immeasurably different from what our elders saw.

In this short glance at the Bastable trilogy I think we have stumbled on a principle. Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that, will read the story or re-read it, at any age…. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz.

C.S. Lewis