Presenter of the National Book Awards

National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Donald Barthelme, Winner of the 1972 CHILDREN'S LITERATURE AWARD
for THE SLIGHTLY IRREGULAR FIRE ENGINE

Writing for children, like talking to them, is full of mysteries. I have a child, a six-year-old, and I assure you that I approach her with a copy of Mr. Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity held firmly in my right hand. If I ask her which of two types of cereal she prefers for breakfast, I invariably find upon presenting the bowl that I have misread my instructions -- that it was the other kind she wanted. In the same way it is quite conceivable to me that I may have written the wrong book -- some other book was what was wanted. One does the best one can. I must point out that television has affected the situation enormously. My pictures don't move. What's wrong with them? I went into this with Michael di Capua, my editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, who incidentally improved the book out of all recognition, and he told me sadly that no, he couldn't make the pictures move. I asked my child once what her mother was doing, at a particular moment, and she replied that mother was "watching a book." The difficulty is to manage a book worth watching. The problem, as I say, is full of mysteries, but mysteries are not to be avoided. Rather they are a locus of hope, they enrich and complicate. That is why we have them. That is perhaps one of the reasons why we have children.