Brigid O’Dea: Children’s literature connects us to our base emotions

Invisible disability: The interaction that lifted me out of my indulgent gloom

Children’s stories remind us of the deep feelings we experience as we come to understand the world around us for the first time. Photograph: iStock

Children’s stories remind us of the deep feelings we experience as we come to understand the world around us for the first time. Photograph: iStock

 

I was recently invited to interview with a prominent children’s publisher in the UK. Now, anyone who knows me would recognise that this is a big deal for me. Children’s literature is one of the great loves of my life.

My earliest memory is reading the picture-book classic, Goodnight Moon, with my parents. The memory is more sensorial than a visual recollection; rereading the opening image of the “cow jumping over the moon” in the “great green room”, transports me back to a place of warmth, safety and comfort, representative of my early years on this planet.

Saving oneself is an active attempt to do very little in an endeavour to preserve one’s energy and defer pain until later in the day

On the day of the interview, I woke early, as I always do, and did that thing I do called “saving myself” until the interview which was due to take place at lunchtime. Saving oneself is an active attempt to do very little in an endeavour to preserve one’s energy and defer pain until later in the day. It is largely futile, but with limited choice, it is what I do when I have an important event or appointment later that day.

As lunchtime approached, I dressed in my favourite yellow T-shirt (for I am a children’s author who radiates sunshine) and set my desk up in a well-lit alcove adorned with art gallery postcards and a funky green tea towel hanging from a wooden board. (Yes, we can vouch for her creative instinct!) I filled a mug with tea, a glass with water and a second glass with green smoothie for some healthy sugars, lest I fall faint during the 15-minute interview slot. I laid down my diary, picked up my pen, and placed my text neatly to the side.

I was ready.

Book deal here I come.

Alas, what came next was not quite what I had anticipated. What transpired was a short and unceremonious feedback session, rather than an opportunity to pitch. Fifteen minutes later I closed my laptop, minus a lucrative book deal. The defeated sunshiny author was stripped of her glow.

I planted my head on my laptop, three liquid vessels still full, text untouched, and my diary scrawled with notes, that in that moment in time, felt useless.

I sought comfort in a phone call with my dad but his words felt futile.

I went out for a walk and the rain joined me in her pathetic fallacy. It felt nice to get wet. I made my way to the chemist to buy a new toothbrush, hoping for comfort instead in some materialism. The cheap bamboo ones were gone.

The interaction had lifted me out of my indulgent gloom. I was happy to have helped someone else

“These ones are really good,” the woman in the chemist remarked helpfully, picking up a set of two solid looking brushes, “I usually buy these.”

“Great,” I replied, “I’ll go for them.”

“They are €7,” she said.

“You know what,” I mumbled, “I think the other ones might be better for my teeth.”

On my way home, still absorbed in my own thoughts, I passed a young girl crying on the street corner. She was alone. Her jacket was open and the rain was still pouring down. I hesitated, not wanting to scare her and selfishly reluctant as to what situation I could land myself in by getting involved.

The young girl looked very sad.

I asked her if she was okay. Her reply was a simple “no”.

She had been dropped to her granny’s house only to find her granny wasn’t home. Now, alone with no one to look after her, she didn’t know what to do.

I talked to her for a bit. Her mum lived nearby, so I offered to walk her home but she refused. I stayed with her and we continued to talk. We knocked once more on her granny’s door, and a neighbouring house. We phoned her mum. No answer.

More than sad, the young girl was scared.

Thankfully, the story had a happy outcome. The girl was reunited with her granny, and we succeeded in making contact with her mum. There was nothing sinister, just a simple misunderstanding.

The little girl melted into her granny’s leg as she allowed herself to be overcome with tears of relief.

I too left the scene with a sense of relief. The interaction had lifted me out of my indulgent gloom. I was happy to have helped someone else. The experience also reminded me why it is I love children’s literature; it connects us to our base emotions.

Children’s stories remind us of the deep feelings we experience as we come to understand the world around us for the first time, emotions that we will re-experience again and again throughout our lives; the feeling of fear when we are lost, the feeling of excitement the first time we make a new friend, or the feeling of safety when wrapped in loving arms as we drift off to sleep lulled by the familiar words of the great green room.

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