Monday, February 29, 2016

Not Only a Children's Writer by Kell Andrews

My second grader was assigned a Great Americans biography project. To help her decide on a subject, we checked out biographies of Elizabeth Blackwell, Mae Jemison, Mary Cassatt, Victoria Woodhull, Sonia Sotomayor, and Maria Tallchief -- great American women who made achievements in medicine, science, politics, and the arts.

Despite reading those fascinating stories, the Great American my daughter chose to write about was Mo Willems.

My first thought was that he is "only a children's writer." And that says a lot more about me that about him.

Not only a children's writer -- he's a dinosaur too.
Willems has won six Emmys for his work with Sesame Street. He has three Caldecott honors. He won two Geisel Medals and Geisel honors five times. He has written and illustrated more New York Times bestsellers than I have manuscripts in my trunk.

He is far more accomplished in his career than I even hope to be in mine, so what does that say about how I value my own career as a children's writer, with one novel published and one picture book to come? It shows that I don't value my own career enough -- I have internalized that I am "only a children's writer."

Mo Willems is not "only a children's writer," and neither am I. Writing for kids is as important -- maybe more important -- than "important writing" for adults. Entertaining and educating children, making them think, laugh, and feel -- these things matter.

At the beginning of the school year, my daughter's teacher asked her who her favorite author was. She said, "My mom." She told me the story and I hugged her.

Then she said, "You're my favorite author as a person. If it's based on books, then Mo Willems, Nick Bruehl, and Bob Shea."

My daughter obviously hasn't learned yet that sometimes you need to know when to stop talking. But no matter how I made it on her list, it's a list I'm proud to be on, just as I'm proud to be part of the community of writers and book lovers that reads this blog.

My daughter says Mo Willems is a Great American. My daughter thinks what he does matters. She's right about him, and I should trust that she's right about me -- and all of you -- too. 

About Kell Andrews: I write for children of all ages. My middle-grade eco-mystery Deadwood  is out from Spencer Hill Press, and her my picture book Mira Forecasts the Future (illustrated by Lissy Marlin) will be released by Sterling Children's on June 14, 2016. You can also find me at or Twitter.


  1. What a great post! I can imagine my 9-year-old saying the same thing about me, too.

  2. Kids are quite honest about what they enjoy. It's nice that your child enjoys your books.

  3. Great post. I think the way children's books are devalued (along with women's fic)reflects the way we devalue children and women.

  4. So sweet, Kell! I love your daughter's honesty and her appreciation for the written and visual word.

  5. Oh, Kell-- I'm framing this post. Perfect!
    And I'm a fan of Deadwood from way back.I really look forward to your PB.

  6. Thanks for all the nice comments! My daughter's report really made me think. I wouldn't have questioned if my daughter featured an adult writer, or "serious" children's writer, but I think the humor is part of it. How can you be important if you are funny? And yet the ability to laugh is so important, and the ability to make others laugh is a gift.

  7. This reminds me of a project I did in middle school math where we had to do a report on how an adult we know uses math at their job. My sister did her report on our dad & I wanted mine to be different but didn't respect my mother's role enough (she was a stay at home mom). Now that I'm a stay at home mom who sometimes works, I have a whole new level of respect & appreciation for it. I think Mo Willems was a wonderful choice for your daughter's report!

  8. Thank you for this lovely story--and for the reminder that humor and children's books are both worthy of respect!


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