"Burdleburbleslurpleslurpleburbleburdleslurp," said the clam, more or less.
It is a well-established fact that one of the main reasons for writing children's literature is that it offers so many chances for dialogue like that. (Just try to work that sentence into a romance novel.) Michael Chabon, who won the Pulitzer Prize last year for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, is a novelist who can fashion an elegant grownup story as if it were a piece of soft aluminum. But the opportunity to plunge into the burdleburple of sheer fantasy is one reason he wrote Summerland (Hyperion/Miramax; 500 pages), the kind of book that features a motherly Sasquatch, some intrepid kids, numerous giants and "werefoxes," and several cliff-hanger baseball games on which the fate of the whole world just happens to hinge, plus a giant, prognosticating clam.
Another famous reason to write children's literature is that it gets you back in touch with your inner child. For Chabon, 39, that may not be much of an incentive, since in person he comes across like a man who already exchanges regular e-mails with his inner child and plays paintball tag with him all the time. But lately there's a big new reason for writing stories aimed at "young readers," the publishing-industry term for kids who are done with picture books but not quite ready for Tolstoy and Candace Bushnell. It's Harry Potter. Harry's success with the reading world--more than 100 million copies sold around the globe--is something that the writing world could not ignore.
Chabon (pronounced Shay-bon) is the best known of a field of established authors who are all at once producing books for the Potterhead age group and up. This fall brings titles by the Chilean novelist Isabel Allende; Carl Hiassen, the deadpan satirist of modern Florida; and Clive Barker, the ghoul--or whatever you would call the man behind the Hellraiser films. There's serious money here. Even before Barker's book appears in stores, Disney has reportedly paid $8 million for the film, merchandising and theme-park rights to his characters. Theme-park rights? This never happened to Faulkner.
Chabon runs his fingers through his unkempt hair and looks up at the ceiling. He's one of those radiant-child adults, the kind you can imagine as the dreamy fourth-grader he must once have been. We're in his big Arts and Crafts-style house in Berkeley, Calif., with his wife Ayelet Waldman, a former public defender turned crime novelist, and their three children, Sophie, 7; Zeke, 5; and Ida-Rose, 16 months. Chabon and his wife live in a noisy, kid-centered world. Waldman's books are about a former public defender turned stay-at-home mom who cracks cases while the baby naps. As Chabon answers questions, the dog barks. Waldman picks a piece of fluff off her husband's face. Sophie's school calls with the news that Sophie just threw up. This would help explain why, in order to write, Chabon stashes himself away every morning in a small cottage behind the house, with his Bakelite radio, his framed original comic-strip panels and his Roberto Clemente baseball card.