Do you remember the day you realized you wouldn’t always be a child?
Of course you do.
It is early summer, you don’t know what day because they’ve all blended into one, hot and sticky, reading in the trees, scraped knees and mosquitoes and fireflies.
Someone says the date offhand, July 9, and it settles uncomfortably into your thoughts like a stranger sitting too close to you on a park bench.
You look up.
It’s been July 9 before, and it will be again, but...
The date sits in your mind, cold and prickly. You lick at it with your tongue, tasting iron.
There will be another July 9, but not this one:
this one will never come again.
Everything slows and you count the seconds
All great children’s literature is rooted in this truth.
Think of Wendy and John and Michael, playing at house and war, while the crocodile ticks by, waiting with teeth.
Or Lyra, gliding above Cittagazze, realizing she can almost see the ghosts.
This is the feeling that you have when you read about Mowgli, running with the pack, playing with the monkeys, wondering what kind of creature he is.
One day he will have to go home.
One day he will have to grow up.
He doesn’t know it yet, but you do.
The truth is the seed from which the wonder grows, strange and ever-changing.
Most things written for children fundamentally underestimate them. They forget how much children really know.
If you were the writer who decided that wouldn’t it be nicer, really, if Mowgli could just stay in the jungle forever with his talking animal friends, I would like to tell you: children are so much smarter than you think. They know the truth that you’ve missed, or forgotten, in your presumed middle age.
They know what real wonder looks like.
They know that isn’t how it ends.