I was five years old when I discovered electricity. My grandpa, a pipe-smoking former-RAF engineer who didn’t usually suffer fools, had suffered me for a half-hour before handing me a battery, a lightbulb, and two wires, and leaving to talk with the grown-ups. It didn’t take long to work out the puzzle — there are only so many ways to arrange four objects — but I remember how excited I was when I got it right, and had my bright idea punctuated by an actual lit lightbulb.
I remember the next idea I had, too: “Batteries have two ends. Wall outlets have two holes. I wonder…?” One exploded lightbulb later, and my grandpa was never left alone with me again.
I hadn’t thought about that in years, but now that I’ve got some kids’ books coming out, people have started asking why I wrote them, and I keep coming back to that lightbulb and the curiosity that exploded it. Because if there’s one thing I remember about childhood, it’s the curiosity.
If you’ve spent time with a five year old, you might know what I mean. “Why are toasters hot?” “Why do countries have flags?” “Why don’t banana candies taste like bananas?” (Writing these questions got me interested enough that I looked them up and, editor willing, I’ll stick the answers down below). It’s not curiosity as a means to an end, a step toward some diploma or job, and I don’t think it’s a matter of the world having more novelty for someone who’s seen less of it — although I’m sure that helps. It’s just pure, joyful learning for its own sake, following questions wherever they lead, trying things out just to see what happens, delighting in the unknown.