Story at Heart
Sarah Klearman ’19
People learn from stories, which makes telling them to young people harder than it seems. Children’s authors Taye Diggs, Francisco Jiménez, and Tim Myers came together to discuss the impact of their work.
‘In the beginning…’ that’s where so many stories start. It is also were learning begins.
And since our beginning, humans have used stories to learn, to teach, to captivate, and to create. Our desire to hear stories—and more than that, to have them told to us—is deeply human, says Department of English senior lecturer Tim Myers, himself the author of 14 children’s books. It begins in childhood, perhaps even before we know it consciously, and never leaves us.
“There’s nothing quite like a story,” Myers says. “It’s the power of ‘and then what happened?’”
It’s only in understanding stories in that context that we truly understand the significance of children’s literature. As Myers says, “children’s literature, children—it’s literally our future.”
Myers, alongside modern languages professor emiterus and author Francisco Jiménez ’66, joined actor and Frank Sinatra Artist-in-Residence Taye Diggs for a panel on writing for children February 27.
Jiménez is the author of two children’s books, which, like his autobiographical series, touch upon his childhood as a Mexican immigrant to the United States. Diggs details his experiences as a person of color in his own childhood in “Chocolate Me” and “Mixed Me.” In adulthood, they tell stories of their own beginnings.
Myers says the implementation of serious, broader themes within children’s literature is critical to helping children shape their view of the world. It’s a common misconception that children’s books are simple texts for simple minds, Myers says. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity, he adds—it can be wonderful. But the assumption that all children’s literature is simple is wrong.
Jiménez spoke to the importance of documenting his experience as a child working in the fields. He wanted to see himself—and the other children and families that shared his experiences—reflected in literature. He hopes immigrant children and the adults in their lives will be touched by his books.
Myers, noting that Jimenez identifies as “an adult writer who also writes for kids,” says that Jiménez’s purpose is introspective.
“As a children’s writer, you’re often writing to a dual audience—books are often read to kids by children or parents,” he says. “It’s really clever that you’re also sending a message to teachers [through these stories].”
For Diggs, whose son inspired “Mixed Me,” guiding children through their identities is about positive representation.
“I want my child to be proud. My child’s mixed, and this book talks about being proud of who he is and where he comes from,” he says.
Senior lecturer in the Department of Communication Katharine Heintz, who facilitated the hour-long conversation, says respecting the experiences of children is “honoring the idea of being who you are, for who you are, and not for how you’re seen.”
“We’re telling them this story: that you are valuable,” she says. And if we tell the story from the beginning, they may even learn they are.
Mar 7, 2019
Senior Lecturer Katharine Heintz (left) led the conversation with Taye Diggs (middle), Francisco Jimenéz (right), and (not pictured) Tim Myers. Photo by Charles Barry