BY BROOKE SMITH
Writing a book is such a fascinating process. One part, in particular, that’s so important is choosing the characters that will walk the reader through the plotline. For my new picture book, The Keeper of Wild Words, the answer came to me as I was literally walking on the land I would soon be writing about, the wildness that takes center stage.
“Grandparents play such a special role in children’s lives.”
My subject was non-fiction—several years ago, over 100 natural words were removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary because the editors no longer felt the words had relevance for today’s children. I decided, however, to tell the story as a fictional piece. I wanted the reader to walk alongside me, to be able to imagine a day totally absorbed in nature—not simply be told about a premise.
“She wasn’t just a grandmother, she was a grand friend”
I chose to write it from the point of view of a grandmother and her granddaughter. Why? Grandparents play such a special role in children’s lives. My dad was a touchstone for my daughter growing up. He gave her a nature backpack when she was very young, and the two of them would walk down our long cinder lane, exploring for hours. His patience with her was such a gift, and watching the two of them together was one of my favorite parts of her childhood.
My daughter also gave my dad so much. She brought out his childlike nature and turned him into a kid again. She never called him grandpa, just Bobby, which for someone as serious as my dad, Professor Robert E. Smith, was such a wonderful and unexpected surprise. The only person that ever called him that was his own grandmother, to whom he’d been incredibly close his whole life. The grandparent bond came full circle.
I also loved the idea of projecting ahead to what kind of grandmother I’d like to be, creating a character that I could be inspired by. Part of that was a visual component that Madeline Kloepper, our illustrator, captured perfectly. Mimi is a more natural, relaxed version of a grandmother than is typically seen in children’s literature. And the relationship she has with her granddaughter is that of a “grand friend,” a close and loving connection I now aspire to. “She wasn’t just a grandmother, she was a grand friend” is one of my favorite lines in the book.
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I hope grandparents who read The Keeper of Wild Words are inspired, too—to share these wild words with their grandchildren and to make sure the language of the natural world stays forever in their hearts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brooke Smith is a poet and children’s book author. She lives in Bend Oregon at the end of a long cinder lane. The Keeper of Wild Words (Chronicle Books) will be available where books are sold March 2020.