This isn't a tip I learned at the Oregon Coast Children's Writer's Worshop, but rather a story from my recent life that I feel I must share.
The other evening I arrived home from work at around midnight -- it was a late one -- and I flipped the light on in the kitchen to douse my innerds with a glass of water before bed.
It was then, glass in hand, that I observed a phenomenon I have only ever heard about in literature. And quite frankly, it is a situation I did not know was based in natural science.
I have a plant sitting atop one of my cupboards. Graceful leafy vines hang about 3 feet down from it, decorating the front of my white cabinets. When I turned on the light, I initially thought that my eyes were tricking me. Tiny little puffs of what I could only imagine were grey brown dust bunnies seemed to be swinging from several of the leaves on the plant. Swinging, I'm telling you. Tossing themselves a few centimeters out from the cupboard and dropping from one leaf to the next one below it. At first I only saw three, or four, perhaps five. When I looked closer there must have been at least twenty. They were all at different heights on the plant, as if they'd been sleeping under one leaf or another and had suddenly decided to wake up and drop to the ground, leaf by leaf. And by now you've probably guessed what they were. Teeny, tiny, almost impossibly miniscule, baby spiders taking flight. They were sailing out to get their first view of life. Setting off to make their way in the world. It was a miraculous moment.
My first thought was -- Charlotte's Web! That little tidbit in that book was based on real science!
And though I never have listed this book, where the beloved mamma spider (yes, Charlotte,) dies and her young ones survive, as one of my favorite childhood books, I suddenly was crushed by an impossible ethical dilema. Do I squish these multitudes of baby spiders -- because that's what I do with spiders when they venture into my house, I'm afraid. Or, (my heart smote me...) was it just possible that some sweet, hardworking mamma Charlotte type of spider had laid these little babies on my plant? Was there a pig and other farm animals standing outside my window cheering the spiders on as they set out into the world? Did these spiders aspire to live fruitful, happy, possibly even college-educated lives as their wonderful web-weaving mother had probably done?
For several seconds I watched the flying babies -- caught up in the miracle of birth, the glorious spectacle of someone stepping off into new territory, taking the big leap into the giant, enormous world...
And I pondered how amazing it was that a story -- a kids' book -- that my mother had read to me when I was probably eight years old, and the plot of which I thought I'd long since forgotten, was suddenly wrenching my heart out with all these painful and yet hopeful emotions. Go spiders!
If anyone says literature isn't powerful... they've never read Charlotte's Web!
But this was my house, afterall, and I do have a dreadful fear of a spider crawling up on my pillow to sleep with me. So, in opposition to every ethical bone in my body, I grabbed a piece of paper-towel and began squishing the baby spiders as they dropped from leaf to leaf. It was a sad day for Charlotte, and I must also admit, a bit for me, and certainly for the baby spiders.
But here's a note to all of us children's writers. Let us remember that when we write about love and loss, and bravery, and hope, and sacrifice (which is what most great books are about in one way or another it seems to me...) When we write about these things, what we write has the power to change the world. Or at least a little piece of it. Even for spiders...