Catherine Urdahl writes like a veteran author. Scanning her website, it seems that her first work was a self-published picture book at age eight. the daughter of a grade school teacher, Catherine learned the value of stories early. She’s passing on that uplifting wisdom to new generations.
Catherine, what’s the good news about children’s literature right now?
In the real world—barring a Freaky Friday switch—we live in our own skin and see events through our own eyes. But today’s children’s books draw readers into the lives, thoughts, and emotions of a diversity of characters tackling an array of tough challenges. A child doesn’t have to be homeless to feel Georgina’s pain and humiliation when her best friend finds out she lives in a car (How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’ Connor). A child born in America can feel the struggles of new immigrant Yoon, who doesn’t like the way her name looks in English and just wants to go back to Korea (My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits). And a typically functioning child can glimpse the world of an autistic boy through the eyes of Ted, whose “brain runs on a different operating system from other people’s” (The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd). Books—unlike television and movies—pull children into the inner lives of characters. The character becomes part of the child, helping her see events through a different point of view. Certainly that ability has the potential to make our world a better, more peaceful place.
From your perspective, what can be done to make that “good” even better?
Those of us with a passion for children’s literature must commit ourselves to getting books into the hands and hearts of ALL children. This happens in hundreds of ways—by talking to parents at all socioeconomic levels about the importance of family reading time; by reading to children in homeless shelters, crisis centers, and preschools; by collecting books for schools and libraries in at-risk communities…. The list is as long as the creativity and commitment of all of us.
Catherine Urdahl is the author of two children’s picture books—Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten and Emma’s Question. Catherine conducts school visits and teaches classes in children’s writing at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. She is a 2008 graduate of the Loft Master Track program in children’s literature and a 1984 graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Children’s Literature Network, Catherine attends workshops at both the local and national level. She is married and has two daughters and a pet rabbit. Visit Catherine’s website.