Why I Love to Hang Out with Kids

Soon I begin ghostwriting a children's book for a an actress/activist. The book has already been sold to a publisher and will be published sometime in 2010. But first I need to imagine the storyline, create characters that our readers (10- to 12-year-olds) will love and a storyline that will inspire, educate and, of course, entertain them. Since I'm not a mom, this means doing some research. I need to closely observe children of that age -- their physical, mental and emotional development, their behavior, what they're into, their interests and abilities, etc. Although through my volunteer work I already spend a lot of time with girls in that age range, now that I need to write about them intense observation is in order. And what better time to do that than over the Christmas holidays?  

So this week I'm in intense observation mode as I hang out with my niece (age 12) and nephews (ages 9 and 5). For example, today, I sat with my 9-year-old nephew for several hours as he constructed a Lego version of the Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater. My goal was merely to keep him company and help him whenever he needed it (he didn't). But as he built, I hipped him to several Bob Marley songs: "I Shot the Sheriff," "One Love," "Jammin'," "Iron Lion Zion" and "Three Little Birds." Not surprisingly, "I Shot the Sheriff" captured his imagination, making Bob the only artist able to break his months-long Michael Jackson obsession. He wanted to know: Did he really shoot a sheriff? (Hmm...) If not, why did he make up that song? (Good question; after conducing some research, I learned the song is about ending corruption and achieving social justice.) 

Interacting with him and observing his keen interest in Marley's lyrics -- which is similar to his curiosity about Michael Jackson's -- confirms an idea I've been playing with that the story's protagonists (girls living in different countries) might unite over their love of music and, perhaps, one artist who inspires them. But not just any artist, one singing about something meaningful: climate change, for instance. 

Thanks to my oldest nephew for this inspiration. (Thanks, too, to photographer Georganna Orton, whose fascinating blog about her amazing work helped show me how I could write a similar type of blog about the work that I do.)

Merry Christmas.