I was roaming the exhibit hall at the International Reading Association convention in Anaheim, California. Almost every major children’s book publisher was exhibiting. Surrounded by glitz and glamour, I scanned the pretty covers of nice stories in attractive packages—hundreds and hundreds of them.
Then I came to a book that stopped me. It was Mordecai Gerstein’s The Shadow of a Flying Bird. I had not read the book, but I knew the author’s work, and I had read reviews. I knew it was a Jewish fable about death, which the author had retold when his own father died.
It was what I call a real book—a book written from the heart and speaking to the heart. And the sight of such a book was like meeting a long-lost friend in the midst of a wasteland. There in the IRA exhibit hall, I cried.
I don’t mean to say that Gerstein’s book was the only “real book” in the hall. I know there were others. But as Theodore Sturgeon once said, 90% of anything is crap.
Crap is what you get when your goal in publishing is only to turn a profit, or fill a list, or spread a message; or when your goal in writing is only to sell a manuscript, or advance your career, or fill a need.
A real book is what you get when you write or publish because a story fills your heart till it overflows, or tickles your mind till it pops, or burns in your gut till it eats its way out, or lights up your soul till it shines forth.
If your own story doesn’t make you laugh or cry or shiver or ponder or dance—what is it worth?
Real books enrich. Crap merely impresses. Real books dive deep. Crap skims the surface. Real books nourish. Crap is like white bread—mere empty calories.
Our children are fed a steady diet of crap—by TV, by radio, by movies, by books. Seldom does one heart speak to another. Is it any wonder so many of our young people are growing up heartless?
Our children don’t need more crap. They need books that help them grow into full human beings. They need books that show them the depths of another person’s heart. They need books that change their lives from the inside.
They need real books.