joe mcgeeby Joe McGee

Inspiration…that’s what we’re here to discuss, isn’t it?

To bandy around, to kick back and forth like a dented Campbell’s soup can on a weed-choked school blacktop. You know, the kind of blacktop where a hundred little sneakers will soon be racing around, attached to skinny ankles, attached to band-aide slathered kneecaps, attached to Star Wars t-shirt wearing torsos, attached to toothless grins on eager faces.

You there…yes, you. The adult standing over by the bleachers. Can you—there, that’s better. No shirts tucked in. Can we smear some dirt on your knees? Maybe leave a little cheese doodle smear on your cheek? Let’s put a few candy wrappers, a rock, and a marble or two in your pocket. Good, now we can talk. I mean, after all, we’re talking about writing for kids, right?

How can we write for kids if our adult selves get in the way? How can we write good stories, fun stories, silly stories, important stories, or stories that resonate for kids if we can’t see the world through their eyes? Roald Dahl may have said it best when he said, “adults should get down on their knees for a week, in order to remember what it’s like to live in a world in which the people with all the power literally loom over you.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that you get down on your knees and crawl around for a week. That’d be creepy and impractical and our knees might just protest and never straighten again. So, I’ll give you figurative license. Stop looking from the outside in, and look from the inside around. BE A KID. Lose your schedule and your deadlines, and your adult insecurities and your social checks and balances and your mature reservations and all the rest of the baggage that our adult passports insist we maintain. Try and experience the world as a child. Truly put yourself in their shoes, with their limitations, experiences, understanding and perception. PERCEPTION. It’s all about perception, right?

In fact, why not dedicate an entire journal to…no, let’s call it your PASSPORT—your passport into the magical realm of childhood. “Anything to claim?” they’ll ask you at the gate. “I claim to have left my rational adult mind behind,” will be your answer. So, with passport in hand, visit childhood at least once a week. Experience the world as a child. Eat a meal as a child. Try guacamole the first time as a child, or wonder what’s in the basement as a child, or make sense of the stars as a child. It’s not easy, not at first…you’ll find that you accidentally brought along a bit of your adulthood the first dozen or so trips….a tie, your checkbook, your maturity. Don’t worry, we won’t tell the authorities. Nobody likes a squealer. You’ll get the hang of it.

Record the world on those trips. Ask questions, be curious. See what’s important, or scary, or confusing, or ridiculous. Why can’t I have a llama for a pet? What happens if I fill the bathtub with Jell-O? What does the Tooth Fairy do with all those teeth? No, really…what does the Tooth Fairy do with all those teeth? Tell me.

Ask questions through a child’s eyes. Feel the world through a child’s heart.

PBB Cover

That’s one of the ways that PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS came to be. I have three boys, and my middle son, Logan, was in third grade at the time. He wasn’t wearing the “cool shoes”…the kind of shoes parents take out second mortgages for, and so some of the neighborhood kids were giving him a real hard time. As a parent, I was furious. Of course I was protective of him and angry that he was being bullied and gnashing my teeth at the consumerist machine, but I knew that he was not alone. There were a lot of kids out there “not wearing the cool shoes.” I wanted to understand how they felt, not me, as an adult, as his father. So I grabbed my passport and checked into childhood. The result was this incredible feeling of ostracism and loneliness that comes across in poor Reginald’s attempt to find himself. Because in my book, he’s not trying to do what everyone else is doing, he’s trying to find himself – to be comfortable in his own skin. That’s what I discovered when I checked my adult self at the door – that my son was struggling to be comfortable in his skin, not struggling to be like everyone else.

There’s a whole world right under our noses, but that is NOT where it belongs. Our noses need to be level with that world, to be in that world. Grab your passport, open your minds and hearts, and live in the world inhabited by those wonderful little minds for whom we write.

You have my permission to be childish.

Joe McGee is the author of PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS (Abrams, 2015). Joe received his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts low residency program and his MA in Writing from Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, where he currently teaches writing.

He is a former airborne Army platoon leader, has climbed an active volcano, and can fly small, fixed-wing aircraft if the situation calls for it. He is represented by Linda Epstein of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. Joe is working on several picture books, revising a middle-grade novel, and at work on a graphic novel collection. He lives in rural Pennsylvania. You can find him online at and on Twitter @mcgeejp.

PrizeDetails (2)

Joe is giving away a copy of PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS. In the comments below, answer this question: from a child’s POV, what does the Tooth Fairy do with all those teeth?

One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!