One morning, I woke with an image hovering just behind my eyes, like the after-image of a bright light. A ship with antlers at its prow, sailing into a harbor. I had no memory of the dream it had come from, if it had indeed come from a dream. All I had were questions: Why did that ship have antlers? Where was it going? Who was on board and what were they looking for? The only way to find the answer was to sit down and write the story.
As I wrote, I encountered Marco the fox, who boarded the Antlered Ship in order to find answers to his questions about the world. His quest mirrored my own. The more I wrote, the more I recognized in Marco the curiosity that made me both a reader and a writer.
Everything I write begins with curiosity –that vibrating alertness that comes with wanting to know more. In college, my curiosity was so wide-ranging that I ended up designing my own major so that I wouldn’t have to settle on a single area of study. Afterwards, I became a journalist, the one profession where unbridled curiosity is the most important – perhaps the only — qualification.
Through journalism, curiosity has led me to some amazing places. I’ve tracked wild wolves, paddled a kayak through a hurricane, and gone for a walk while holding the trunk of a baby elephant. I’ve interviewed every kind of person imaginable – scientists and inventors, paupers and politicians, judges and murderers, athletes and aesthetes. Each of those stories began the same way: with a list of questions.
Questions, of course, are the special province of children. When my son was little, I kept a list of the ones he asked me. What makes fire? What if trees could walk? Why don’t people have tails? How do you know if a volcano is extinct? Where does water come from? What does German sound like? What if all clothes were bathing suits?
As we get older, most of us begin to fear that asking such questions will make us look stupid and so we ask fewer and fewer of them. We value certainty more than curiosity, answers more than inquiry. But while certainty ends a conversation, curiosity starts one. Questions are how we learn about the world, and about one another. Questions are what make us climb aboard a ship bound for unknown places.
I didn’t know that The Antlered Ship was a book about curiosity when I started it. But if I hadn’t been curious, I never would have found out. I hope that when children read the book, they’ll be inspired to be lifelong questioners, asking questions not just of parents, teachers, and librarians, but of themselves and of each other. As Marco discovers in the course of the story, the quest to find answers is often more important than the answers themselves, and the best answers inevitably lead to more questions.