Wednesday, August 26, 2009

writing for kids, reading with kids

Earlier this week, author Brian James wrote a couple blogs about why he writes for kids, one of which I responded to.

And, as a matter of fact, later on today I am being interviewed by a kid writer who wants to talk about -- you guessed it -- writing. I really hope she asks me some questions I haven't been asked before... assuming they're not too hard.

Probably one of the most frequently-asked questions I get, though, has to do with writing for kids, and why I do it. Here's what I usually say:

I honestly never thought of myself as being a "kids' writer," and I never considered my work to be targeted to that particular audience. I just write.

In fact, I cringe every time I'm asked to participate in a "Childrens' Authors" group or anything that involves "Writing for Children," because my stuff is definitely NOT for what I would call "children."

I think that a generalization that I've found to be fairly true -- at least in my own experience -- is that we learn our most important lessons, and often face the most agonizing decisions when we are young, and for that reason I like to write stories with young adult characters. In my own case, it took a lot of time and maturing to be able to step a sufficient distance away from some of these lessons and experiences to be able to write them down as stories and say this is what happened to me, and this is what I realize I learned from it.

Because all of my books have things from my own life in them. I don't know any writer who's ever been able to not include personal elements in their work. And I'm still processing those lessons, anyway, and am sure I'll have a lot more to tell as they find their way onto pages.

That said, earlier, a librarian posted a comment about in the path of falling objects being recommended for ages 13+. I'll be honest... I told her that I'd be very careful putting it into the hands of a 13-year-old kid because it does contain some difficult (at least in my life) truths. On the other hand, I do have friends who've had their kids even younger than 13 read the book... but moms and dads read it first, as all parents should, and were the best ones to make a decision about the appropriateness of the content for their particular sons and daughters.

I make this point because I recently read a bookseller's blog about the ways that families interact in bookstores -- and was struck by the description of the negative parent who kept telling their kid that every book she chose was "inappropriate." I wonder if parents really take the time to read the books that interest their kids, or if they pass such judgments simply by looking at the cover.

If you want your kids to read, let them choose what to read. If you want them to become brilliant readers, read the same things that they choose, and let them lead the dinner table conversation with you about it.

Just a thought.