Philadelphia News Interview With Chaim Potok
Chaim Potok, resident of suburban Philadelphia, is the renowned author of many novels and stories for adults, including The Chosen (1967), The Gift of Asher Lev (1990), and I Am the Clay (1992). He has also written two books for young people: The Tree of Here (1993) and The Sky of Now (1994).
Question: What motivates you to write stories for children?
Answer: The look in the eyes of a child when he or she reads or hears a good story. There's such a light and a dancing in those eyes. Getting that light is worth all the effort it takes to make a good story.
Q: What makes a good story for kids?
A: One of the things that fascinates and challenges kids is their sense of entering into a very serious contest of sorts, which the heroine or the hero of the story experiences. That contest can be physical, or it can be totally imaginary. Sometimes the contest is between two parts of yourself hitting against each other. The child senses him- or herself participating in the contest and tries to figure out what he or she would do -- and then the delight when somehow in the story the child prevails!
Q: Do these stories help kids?
A: It's a bit of a crazy world for children, this adult world we live in, and they can use all the help they can get. A good story in which a child overcomes a difficulty is a help indeed.
At the same time, you don't want the difficulty to be trivial. In my first book for young people, The Tree of Here, the difficulty is that an 8-year-old child has just been told by his parents that the family is moving for the third time. In The Sky of Now, a boy of 9 realizes that he is terrified of heights, but he wants to be a pilot when he grows up, like his uncle. And the surprise comes when the uncle, as a birthday present, gives the boy glider lessons. And that becomes his first lesson as a pilot. Most of the book takes place inside the glider.
Q: Which is harder -- writing for adults or writing for children?
A: Each is a different realm, and each has its difficulties. But I'll tell you: I just finished a book of short stories for young adults, and for each of the stories I wrote, I must have written six other stories. A novel for each story, in other words.
Q: Are there enough good stories for kids?
A: For me, there are -- I just love writing them. They're all over the place.
Q: Should adults read works in this genre?
A: Adults should read kids' stories constantly. The imagination, the soaring of the mind and the spirit that you find in stories for children -- it's all simply astonishing and in the end profoundly satisfying.
Q: Is it art?
A: It certainly can be. Look at Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Look at Dr. Seuss. I think that what he has accomplished is to raise the genre of the children's book to an art form.