Names And Labels

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 7

The world wants to shove us into what it considers the appropriate pigeonhole. I do not like to be labelled as a “Christian children’s writer” because I fear that this will shove me even further into the pigeonhole which began to be prepared for me when A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery medal. If I am so labelled, then the implication is that I am to be read only by children, and Christian children at that. Though the chief reason that Wrinkle was rejected for over two years and by thirty-odd publishers was because it is a difficult book for many adults, the decision was made to market it as a children’s book; it won a medal for children’s books. Therefore, I am a children’s writer, and that is all I’m allowed to be.

~Madeline L’Engle


When John Steinbeck set out to write East of Eden, he knew it would be a multi-generational epic and is most challenging project to date (if not a lifetime.)  To our great fortune, he wrote a journal throughout the process which has now been published as Journal of a Novel.  In it, he wrote of the great care he exercised when writing from a child’s point of view.  For John Steinbeck, as for William Wordsworth and William Blake, a child’s lucid vision captures the essentials. Steinbeck scrawled reminders to himself: capture a “child’s vision” because “adults haven’t the clear fine judgment of children.” That meant to write with precision and freshness. Truth is like clear pure water.

In his book The Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck wrote:

We have not known a single great scientist who could not discourse freely and interestingly with a child. Can it be that the haters of clarity have nothing to say, have observed nothing, have no clear picture of even their own fields? A dull man seems to be a dull man no matter what his field, and of course it is the right of a dull scientist to protect himself with feathers and robes, emblems and degrees, as do other dull men who are potentates and grand imperial rulers of lodges of dull men.

In Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle writes:

I’m a writer. That’s enough of a definition. (I infinitely prefer to say that I am a Christian than to mention any denomination, for such pigeonholing is fragmenting, in religion as in art.) So. I am a Christian. I am a writer. When I am grappling with ideas which are radical enough to upset grownups, then I am likely to put these ideas into a story which will be marketed for children because children understand what their parents have rejected and forgotten. Because I am a struggling human being; trying to make sense out of the meaninglessness of much of life in this century and daily searching for revelatory truth in Scripture, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever want to write novels of pessimism or porno, no matter how realistic my work. But I don’t want to be shut in, labelled, the key turned, so that I am not able to grow and develop, as a Christian, as a writer. I want that freedom which is a large part of the Christian promise, and I don’t want any kind of label to diminish that freedom. It is sad and ironic to have to admit that it does.

In chapter 7, L’Engle often talks about the importance of retaining the “quality which the world would limit to children.” She argues that the artist must be like a child in his or her openness to mystery, to story, and to truth. Yet, she also claims that art for children is the “most looked-down-on of all.” How do you personally feel about art that is intended for children? List some popular children’s art—television, books, music, even toys—and consider the value of these things. Do you instinctively think less of these works of art because they are for children? Do you think these things are examples of good art or, as L’Engle might call it, art that is true? Why or why not?

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