When are you going to get a real job?
On Getting Some Respect as a Children's Book Author and Illustrator
Best commentary from a stranger: "You're a children's book author? I should use that one too."
Best commentary from a "friend": "You're indulging in a hobby. When are you coming back to work?"
Twenty five children's books under my belt, and I still get no respect. Well, almost. At least I can say that I'm popular with four to eight-year-old kids. Which is quite an improvement, as I was often unpopular with the same cohort in my pain-associated capacity as a pediatric nurse. But being a nurse always commands some respect, if not with physicians, then surely with little children whose well-being depends on you. It's different when you're a children's book author. Now you're the entertainment.
My kindergarten road show begins with story-telling and ends with drawing. I would like to say that my performances are so riveting that the children are always engrossed. But being five years old, they invariably have the energy and attention span of a boisterous pack of pound puppies. Some sit on their hands to keep them still. Others squirm and swat at stray fingers and toes that have wandered into their personal space. Sometimes there's pushing. Sometimes there's shoving. And always there are hands, raised high, and little voices straining against the limits of acceptable classroom behavior.
"Draw a dolphin. Draw a dolphin. Dolphin, dolphin, dolphin!"
"No! Draw a shark!"
"Can I draw too?" Then the chanting begins. "Me too, me too, me too!"
But I take my responsibility as an emissary for children's literature seriously. You never know where the next Lois-Ann Yamanaka will pop up.
At the end of my presentation, the kindergarten teacher looks exhausted. I have given her an hour of respite, but I know that my one hour means three hours of thank-you notes. My feeling is that we should give these teachers the respect they deserve. I've seen the thank-you notes; these teachers are angels.
Which brings us back to respect. The best commentary from a five-year-old: "I like your shoes. They look soft, like the President's." The best commentary, ever, unsolicited, from my mother: "You can always fall back on your art." Being compared to the President and a mother's faith. You can't beat that.
So, fellow writers, what's my advice on getting some respect? First of all, surround yourself with people that believe in you. Second, make contact with other writers through writer's associations, conferences and support groups. And most importantly, hang with the kindergartners. They're unflinchingly honest in their critique and they won't ever tell you to get "real" job.
©2007 Tammy Yee. All rights reserved.