Parent/Child Collaborations

I enjoy Caroline Leavitt’s blog at Today she posted an interview with writer Dawn Raffel, who offers these thoughts on the work/life balance:  “I’d like to tell you that I am very disciplined and write every day but I’m not and I don’t. I write when I feel like I’m going to explode if I don’t write. At that point, a missile could be coming through the wall and I might not notice.”  Her latest collection is called Further Adventures in the Restless Universe.   The cover is quite striking and–here’s the detail I loved–it was done by her son.

I used one of my daughter’s drawings in Good Things I Wish You.  She was asked by her pediatrician, at age 4, to draw a picture of her family.  She refused.  After that, she periodically (and gleefully) mentioned the fact that Dr. Ivy had asked her, and that she’d refused.  About 5 months later, she came home from school one day with a drawing that included 17 people, each of them labeled phonetically, plus a note from her Montessori teacher saying she’d worked on it all week.  The striking thing about it is that all the figures in it are smiling except me.  The teacher said, later, she’d been told it was because I was “lonely,” but what she didn’t know what that my daughter used “lonely” as a synonym for “different.”


That same night, after my daughter was in bed, I wrote what became Chapter 17, one of the shortest patches in the overall quilt that shapes the book.  Even typeset, it’s less than a page. I wonder if Raffel’s collection gained focus after she saw her son’s drawing, or if she’d already completed the collection when she chose his artwork for her cover.   Also, I wonder how many other writers have been inspired by their children’s art (or words) to the extent that they’ve physically incorporated those images/ideas into their own projects.  I can think of one other writer, William Maxwell, who used his (grown) son’s artwork for the cover of So Long, See You Tomorrow, and as I mull this over, I’ll probably think of more.  In ways I can’t explain, this thought is connected to a relationship in the novel I’m working on now between a mother, who is an architect, and her grown son.

An obvious writing prompt here, but for those of you with young children, take a closer look at what’s hanging on your refrigerator.  Choose one detail–or one section–of one masterpiece and re-imagine it in words.  Just because it is a child’s drawing doesn’t mean you need to work from a child’s point of view.  In fact, a more incongruous point of view might indeed be more effective, more surprising and, therefore, original.

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