Back to School

Although the air—heavy, barely stirring—would indicate otherwise, summer vacation is nearly finished. Oh, there is still some unstructured time left before the new school year starts: lazy days by the pool, a family trip to Colorado, middle-the-week sleepovers with friends. Nonetheless, my children yesterday went to the office supply store to buy new pens, mechanical pencils, and index cards. They spent a happy hour testing and tossing last year’s markers, restocking their pencil bags, and organizing their backpacks before heading outside to play in the sun. I’m not sure whether they were compelled by the calendar or some internal shifting, but they’re clearly aware of the pull of back-to-school.

So am I. At 15 and 11, my children are less demanding and more independent than in summers past—they walked to Office Max of their own volition yesterday, for example—but I still haven’t been able to construct a reliable writing schedule during these long, hot days like I have when everyone is at school or work. Also, it so happened that I completed a book at the start of summer and needed some time to replenish the wellspring that supports my creativity, so was in no rush to begin my next project.

But I can only go so long without writing before I start to feel twitchy. It’s like an itch that demands to be scratched. I can tell the well is full enough because my dreams have become more vivid. I can almost feel the new squatters moving into my imagination, unpacking their baggage, tapping their feet impatiently, eager for me to tell their stories.

Perhaps whatever inspired my kids to ready their school supplies is what moved me to reach out to my dear friend Lenny Kessler this morning.

Lenny is the author of more than 200 books for children, including my very favorite MR. PINE’S PURPLE HOUSE, which I’ve loved all my life. We became friends years ago when I reached out to him to thank him for that book, and later he even offered a beautiful blurb for my children’s book THE WORD BURGLAR. Every once in a while I like to check in and catch up with him and enjoy his endless, happy encouragement.

He said, “Chris! How wonderful to hear from you! What are you writing?”

“Well, I’m in between books at the moment. How about you?”

“You know, last night at 11 PM I had a new idea, a totally new approach to writing for children—but I don’t want to send it to the publisher, because they’ll buy it and then I’ll have a deadline!” he said, and he laughed. His laughter sounds like champagne bubbles. He’ll be 97 years old this October, about which he says “sounds really very old, but I don’t feel old.” “After all these years, I just don’t want to deal with deadlines anymore, but I’m writing all the time.”

At the end of our wonderful conversation, he said, “I found an old letter from a reader the other day. A young boy. It said, ‘You make words important.’ That made me so happy. I love putting out words. When you write, you’re happy. I know you feel like that, too.”

I do. I love the idea of putting words out, of making them important. I can’t wait to get started again.