This week in honor of Australia's Children's Book Week, celebrated chidren's author, Tristan Bancks, tells us why it is so important for children to be able to get lost in stories.
‘The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another, his mother called him “Wild Thing!” and Max said, “I’ll eat you up!” so he was sent to bed without eating anything.’
- Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
Even now, decades after I first read those words, they conjure up feelings of escape, of a patchwork jungle, of mythical creatures and a world where a child can make decisions and be in charge. This story gave me hope when I was five years old and everything in the world was decided by others and out of my control and rotten.
I would do anything, back then, to read more stories. I would feign sickness just to spend quality time in school sick bay with their pop-up book collection. I would race to the library after school to read Fungus the Bogeyman or the illicit Where Did I Come From?
This story hunger has not abated. I still want as many stories as I can as fast as I can get them. It’s why I am compelled to write my own books for children and it’s why I became a writer ambassador for Room to Read. Because stories matter to humans in a needful way that we cannot always articulate.
To be sure, I am excited about the scale of the impact Room to Read has in sensible, countable ways: 16,000+ reading spaces created in 14 years, 1800+ schools established, 27,000+ girls educated, 1000+ books published in 27 local languages. But as a children’s author, I am most excited about something that can’t be quantified—that moment when a Cambodian child opens a book in her own language and tumbles into her own Where the Wild Things Are, a story so primal and honest she wishes to spend her entire life inside those pages.
Hopefully the story will whisper to her down through the decades that even when life seems as bad as it can get, she can escape into the magical space of a book.
With a book in hand, a child can sail off ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’ to a place where things are better, gentler, more in-control. As Room to Readers, I think this is our most important work.
Tristan Bancks is a writer for children and teens published in Australia and the US. He is also one of Room to Read’s writer ambassadors. This year he is attempting to raise $20,000 to buy 20,000 local language books for the Destination Literacy Campaign by the end of October. You can help him here: http://www.tristanbancks.com/2014/03/room-to-read-world-change-challenge-2014.html