“At the back of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder.” —G. K. Chesterton
As a children’s book author and a creative writing teacher for kids, I have the honor—and challenge—of spending my days both digging for the submerged sunrise in myself and basking in the blazing sun of others. It is a perilous adventure at times, fraught with ninja-kicking dei ex machina and discombobulated spelling. Even as I write this, in fact, I am also faced with the daunting task of drawing an imaginary creature that is the composite of strange body part descriptions by twenty kids—including sixty-five multicolored ears, fifteen moldy toes, elbow-macaroni-and-cheese spines, and a tail that has a fair chance of being ranked among the world’s seven wonders.
Since I am neither a parent nor a pastor, nor even a traditional sort of school teacher, I often feel that my relationship to children has a slightly different flavor from that of many of my friends and colleagues; I feel less like a guide or caretaker and more like an imaginative cohort, a co-conspirator in all things monsterific or dragonesque. And therefore when someone mentions the innate spirituality of children, I do not at first think of their innocence, their unsettling questions about life and death and the immortality of pet hamsters, or their spontaneous bursts of insight that seem to confirm Wordsworth’s suspicion that they came out of the womb “trailing clouds of glory.” I think of my students’ stories about talking cats, magic portals, giant sloths from outer space, adventurous pizza delivery boys, treasure chests, princesses who go on quests, fiddling skydivers, and bizarre creatures. I think about the astonishing phrases that proceed from the pencils of elementary-age kids—fish eyelashes, bellowing volcanoes, the toenails of dolphins, a song of silver and ice, fairy whispers, the distant explosion of a marshmallow, icicles shivering and shuffling across the sky, the spicy sound of wind by the sea cliffs, or extremely rare petrified slurps.