Wouldn't it be nice to write a classic of children's literature?
Well, yes, of course it would. You know that. I know that. Those people who, on discovering you write for children, chuckle, 'Ah, the next JK Rowling, eh?' know that. The question, of course, is: how do you do it?
Actually, even before you ask how to write one you have to define what we mean by 'a classic'. My MacBook's onboard dictionary tells me that it's 'a work of art of recognised and established value'. I suppose on that basis I could argue all my books are classics: their value has long been both recognised and established as £3.99 (well, except for Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy, which is £5.99). I don't think that's quite what the dictionary means, though.
Wikipedia takes an interesting approach; its list of children's classics is defined as 'A list of the most important children's books, which were published at least 90 years ago, and were written for children and/or are still enjoyed by children today'. The 90-year limit suggests the author of this sentence believes either that a book has to stand the test of time before it can be considered a classic, or that classics can only be written by dead people; assuming it's the first, I think perhaps (s)he has a point. I personally think it's highly likely that some at least of the Harry Potter series, for instance, will come to be considered classics, but I think it's too early to start calling them that yet. The point that a book doesn't have to have been written for children to be a children's classic is a good one, too.
I wonder if we need to go back as far as 90 years to find classics, though. What about, say, CS Lewis's Narnia stories? They're over 50 years old, and still in print and loved by children. I'd like to think they qualify for classic status. I suppose by those criteria you'd have to count the Reverend W Awdry's Railway Series as classics, too. And the Famous Five, for that matter.
My musing on this point was inspired by the fact that I've recently been reading Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (one of the obvious classics) to my daughter for her bedtime story (although she's currently taking a break from Alice for a quick whizz through one of the Rainbow Fairies books). She's loving Alice; but one of the interesting things I've noticed is that she's clearly not getting all of it; and in fact, I'm spotting quite a bit that I didn't get when I read it as a child. Winnie-the-Pooh, likewise. There's a lot in the stories of the Bear of Very Little Brain that is actually adult-level (or at least teen-level) humour; when, in my teaching days, I read it to my Year 3 class they completely missed a lot of what, to me, were the funniest bits.
Which makes me wonder: to write a classic, do you actually have to appeal to adults, too? Does there have to be something in there to make parents want to share it with their children - or perhaps to make children keep coming back to it as they grow up, as I did with the Narnia stories? But then - and I speak as one whose son was utterly obsessed with the wretched Thomas between ages 2 and 6 - wouldn't that disqualify the Railway Series (except in the eyes of ardent train-spotters)?
Perhaps there's no one answer. Perhaps there's a certain amount of serendipity involved for the books that rise to the top and stay there to become classics, just as we all know of books that we think are fantastically good but that somehow never got noticed. Maybe many of us who post on here have written books that have already become recognised classics in another universe even though, in this one, they are barely managing to stay in print. It would be nice to think so.
It'll be interesting to see what thoughtful comments members of the ABBA community have to make on the theme of what makes a children's classic. It'll also be interesting to see who is first to get the reference in the title to this piece...
Oh - and: Happy Valentine's Day, book lovers.