How to Write a Children’s Book

murray schane state of mindPanzil. How did I think of that?

I can blame my late friend,  David Gordon, who coaxed me into writing a children’s book. He was a graphic designer and he let me use his back office and his dining room during a dark time in my life, a time when one of my children was suffering from a debilitating illness that was worsening. One afternoon, as I was at the keyboard trying to write about deeply troubled patients, David put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why don’t you write a children’s book? Something I could illustrate.”

Here I was, a psychiatrist past my twentieth year in practice, a would-be want-to-be writer, but the idea hung in the air like a fly that suddenly rushes past you, then flies out of sight.

Days later, as the fly was buzzing around me, I thought about the horror movies I liked to watch as a boy, shielding my eyes with nervous, cupped hands. All of those films were about creatures, werewolves and gorilla women and Frankenstein and Dracula and the invisible man. All of them secretly yearning to be rendered good somehow, to be rescued.

Of course, I identified with all of them. One of the struggles of my childhood, probably the main one, was defining who I was and who I was going to be when-I-grow-up. Every child’s task is to achieve a sense of self, the person it first begins to recognize through what Lacan called the Mirror Stage. Soon it accrues the qualities assigned by others — I was shy, quiet, regimented, dreamy, fearful, smart. So I was told. And hanging all through my childhood was some future self which I could not identify. I wanted to be a writer because I loved books. Not so much that I loved to write but that I liked the idea of being a writer of books.

My father’s dream for me, doubtless the fulfillment of his dream for himself, was for me to be a doctor. He was quite vocal about that, though never insistent, always subtle. He believed I had all of the qualifications to become a doctor, that I was a doctor incarnate.

So here I was years later, a few years after his death, a doctor, And I was writing a children’s book.


“He will live according to principles of being and doing good.”


I thought up a little character, a young dragon, born to be bad, but who tries to undo his heritage. He will rescue himself, even defy his parents and all he came from. The image of this young dragon came to me with a pre-determined name, the Yiddishy-sounding Panzil. That name rang out to me like a call from some Transylvanian swamp. A place where dragons might dwell. A dark, dank fen.

David loved the idea and the name. He immediately began sketching.

The thrust of the story became Panzil’s efforts to throw off the burden of evil deeds and evil intent and the fierce dragon powers that for centuries personified hellish intent. Panzil, though, is naturally good perhaps because he is young. But also because, seeing all the old destructive power of dragons now seriously out-moded, he is determined to reverse all that. He will live according to principles of being and doing good. He will go out into the world to liberate himself.

Panzil required some library research to discover the myriad of characteristics that cling to the concept of a dragon. Dragon history is ancient, multicultural, and, at times, seemingly credible. A dragon is a lurking, lone predator often guarding some treasure or holding a hostage like some mercenary devil.

Our first draft, despite the truly inspired illustrations, did not read quite right. The text required a few editorial consultations to give it a voice that speaks to children. Having gleefully turned out the first book, David and I envisioned a series of sequels — how Panzil might save Christmas from climate change; how Panzil could protect endangered species; how Panzil could restore the balance of available water supply. And each episode would serve as Panzil’s lesson to children.

Panzil, the do-good little dragon.

What’s That Flower Doing in My Garden?

murray schane state of mind

Although I know little about flowers, being something of an urban cement dweller, I do love them.

I have never tended a garden, although my mother and both my sons do quite well. And I love to walk through flower gardens and for years have a magnificent bouquet delivered to my office every week.

So why am I writing about flowers? Just to praise them?

Continue Reading

Panzil Arrives

murray schane state of mind

For a children’s book I seized on the idea of writing about self-discovery, but with a radical twist.

just as language emerges from intra-familial linguistic paradigms, personality is formed from the primal interactions between parents and oneself. Such interactions are shaped by context, interpretation and inference.

Personality is how we are perceived by others. It’s the social clothing we wear as if it grew on us unawares. No mirror reflects it back. Continue Reading

When to Stop Giving

murray schane state of mind

I grew up in a family that, somewhat like Jehovah Witnesses, did not celebrate holidays though not by eschewing them. Birthdays were celebrated and gifts given when I was a child—sweaters and socks. I got a fountain pen for middle school and a typewriter for high school graduations.

The first gift, out of the family context, that I gave, with trembling emotion, was to my friend Carl. In exchange for favors he had proferred—lending me issues of gothic horror comic books—I gave him a roll of grosgrain ribbon that he admired in the Kresge dime store. I was twelve and Carl and I were in the same class, both of us devotees of horror comic books, a passion not appreciated by our parents.

Continue Reading

Write a Children’s Book — Why?

muray schane state of mind

It was a dark time and death was rattling around like a lost messenger.

One of my children was sick, undiagnosed, untreatable and getting worse. Young and feeling his life stripping away, he became intermittently suicidal. His desperate4 calls — at all hours — were sometimes terrorizing.

I took refuge in my friend’s office, his dining room, his country house; I was filling time by writing. One book—a compendium of case reports from the picaresque, the bleakest edges of madness. But substituting those dark stories for my son’s only drained whatever composure, whatever attempt at fortitude was feeding me.

Continue Reading

Thanks for What?

murray schane state of mind


Thanks is a reward handed over to someone else. An empathic gift.

Giving thanks might have begun in religious faith. “Thank God!” is one of our most frequent utterances. “Thank God” is a kind of prayer reversal — acknowledging the hope, incipient and insubstantial, that an intervention will (or has) provided aid or comfort or safety.

As children, we are instructed to thank others for a meal, a gift, a favor. Here thanks is plied as obligatory. Behind the failure to give thanks is a reprimand. And the exchange between the giver and the receiver becomes a bond of mutuality. But not love. One doesn’t thank the person that just shared a kiss or a sexual embrace. Continue Reading

Playing for Life

murray schane state of mind

Play is the first formidable task of childhood, even very early childhood. Play appears before speech and before socialization. It begins spontaneously.

While universally regarded as an important function in children, its fundamental purpose is elusive. It has yet to be studied neurobiologically. No one seems to be sure why children play, why they seem to need to play.

In the early 20th century the great psychologist of childhood development, Jean Piaget, regarded play as purposeless, as just a means of seeking pleasure. More recently play has been incorporated into educational programs for improving cognitive development,  enhancing sociability and accelerating physical facility.

Continue Reading

Why Men Hate Ballet

murray schane state of mind

Here I was at the University of Chicago about to end my short career as a ballet dancer. My blind friend, Robert Walz (a portrait of him in the framed picture) had just been killed in a head-on car crash. And my Chaucer professor would not grant me time to attend the funeral so I stayed up all night with a friend typing my term paper and got downgraded. Not a good time.

Then I made a radical decision. Having listened to my father whisper “doctor” in my ear since the cradle, I decided finally to apply to medical school. I had to quickly pack in pre-med courses: physics, quantitative (chemical) analysis, calculus, etc. I took the MCATs and got in. A hero’s journey—like my little hero Panzil.
Continue Reading

Saving Equality

  • murray schane state of mind

It starts in the womb. The unequal distribution of features—cognitive and emotional potentials, gender specifics, mental stability—all start by wandering off course.

Until very recently we believed we were all truly created equal. It was a founding principle of our very revolutionary democracy. And we hold to that as a sacred given. And well we should.

The world never stops disputing that belief. We stand nuclear-armed to defend the principle of equality against enemies we consider wholly unequal.

Continue Reading

Birthday Dreams and Dreads

murray schane state of mind blog

The site of the house where I lived the first nine years of my life


Passing through another birthday (in August) nowadays is no longer the thrill of opening a new chapter in a beloved book, with dozens more still to come, still to follow at a pace of my own choosing. Birthdays are now like a hike along a twisting, bramble-strewn, almost treacherous path where fellow hikers sometimes fall or give up and walk away. There is always the glory of the view, the sunlit expanse of sky and terrain, the anticipated arrival of a somber, rosaceous sunset. Night and sleep seem preparative.

Continue Reading

Scroll to top