Meg Rosoff opened the 2014 SCBWI LA conference with a hilarious rendition of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, told from a literal perspective. In Meg's version, Goldilocks finds rotting rabbits to eat instead of porridge, and piles of leaves and bear poop instead of beds in the bears' den. When the bears return home, Goldilocks meets an unhappy end.
Meg told this version of the story to counteract those folks who say that fantasy and fairy tales lead children to believe in impossibilities - and that's a bad thing. But fantasy and fairy tales promote imagination and imagination is crucial for everyone. Curiosity and imagination cause people to ask questions, and the answers to those questions might be a new invention, new philosophy, or just a new variation of pasta for dinner. “Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants,” Meg said. Children's authors ask questions and answer them with stories. What if there's a slime fiend living in that swamp? What if we colonized Mars? What if there was a girl whose fingernails grew six feet long? According to Meg, it's our job as writers to "try to understand the world ... to understand what might be as well as what is." As we write each page, we understand more. How we convey that understanding is up to us.
Jane Resh-Thomas urges her students to discover what story they are "writing behind their backs." What part of yourself have you poured into your story? Where do you see yourself in it? For Meg, that might be reflected in a characters' faults. She insisted that we writers should "treasure our faults" and "look at all the don'ts in your life, all the stubborn, angry, unruly parts." Everyone has faults - we should stop trying to be good and instead we should be bad, take risks, and embrace what is difficult. She urged us to write the book that we think no one will buy, to write "the strongest, fiercest, most subversive tale you can tell."
Acknowledging faults, let alone treasuring them, is hard. But writing is hard. It requires us to explore uncomfortable truths about ourselves and reveal them in our stories. By understanding and revealing our faults in our stories, we help children understand and come to terms with the world.