I didn’t set out to be a kids’ writer. At first, I wrote parenting articles, travel pieces, government brochures, whatever I could get paid to write. It turned out my most successful efforts were about the subjects that interest me the most, and written in a light style. These pieces grew into children’s books, and once I found my niche, I’ve never looked back.
Side note: I’ve discovered that most authors of children’s books, like me, have a young “mental age.” Inside our heads, we are still 5, or 12, or whatever, and the age we feel inside is the age we tend to write for. My mental age is 11, and therefore it is no shock that “middle grade” is my “sweet spot”. What’s your mental age? Shoot me a note and let me know!
Sometimes, people ask me if I ever intend to write “a real book.” I know what they mean – a book for adults. But I can’t imagine why they would think that a) children’s books aren’t real, or b) that writing for adults would be preferable.
My answer is a definitive no (although who knows? I might one day change my mind). I enjoy the freedom and flexibility kidlit offers – the chance to write about robots or monsters or pirates, in fiction or nonfiction, in a funny style or a poetic one, as the muse takes me. Such genre-crossing versatility is unusual in children’s literature, but pretty much unheard of in the adult world.
Secondly, there is no better, nor more important, audience than kids. Kids won’t put up with boring self-indulgent claptrap – if you ramble on about irrelevancies, they will let you know (I am thinking here of the kid who, during a presentation, shouted out, “BORING!!!”, or the one who just laid himself down on the floor and went to sleep.)
But kids also approach a book with an open minded, pure enthusiasm that is refreshing and inspiring. When they love something, they love it with a whole heart. The flip side of that “BORING!!” kid is the kids who write thank you notes decorated with hearts. Luckily, there are more of those than the other kind!
Third, and perhaps most importantly, is that a children’s book has the potential to shape a person’s life. When you’re 6, or 10, or 14, a book can electrify you, enchant you, educate you, warn you, support you. It can become your dearest companion, your most significant influence. Many of us can still remember favourite books from our youth. They became part and parcel of our being. Can you say the same about the books you read last year?
There was no greater moment in my career than the time a kid came up to me, pointed at The Haunted House That Jack Built, and told me, “My little sister learned how to read using that book.” I got chills just now, typing that sentence.
To my mind, children’s books matter. A lot. And it matters to me to spend my time creating something that can make a difference in the world.
So I write for children. Happily, proudly, enthusiastically.
I write biographies, like Pirate Queen: A Story of Zheng Yi Sao (Groundwood Books), and Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt), that bring to light long suppressed story of female and minority achievement, because equality and equity matters.
I write about math and science in books like Megabugs: And Other Prehistoric Critters That Roamed the Planet (Kids Can Press), Hubots and Zoobots (both also Kids Can Press), to help kids understand the wonder of our planet and the power of the scientific method. Because science literacy matters.
I write funny picture books, like A Porcupine in a Pine Tree (Scholastic Canada), Sloth at the Zoom (Owlkids Books) and You Can Read! (Orca Books), because bringing joy and laughter into the world is always necessary.
This month, I plan on sharing with you some key insights into children’s books that I’ve learned on my journey. They will include:
- What makes a good children’s book? Some nuts and bolts to help you evaluate a book before you buy it.
- Why are Canadian kids’ books so darn good? (And they are!)
- How problems with Canadian copyright law have damaged your kids’ education
- The male default – what it is and why it’s a problem in children’s books
- To Pre-read, or not to Pre-read? i.e., Should you be vetting your kids’ reading material?
- Why science books for kids are the must-read books of the 21st century. For kids and adults.
- The School Library – what it should look like, and why a good school library/librarian is more important than ever.
Til next time,
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.