Writing for Children: “Real” Writing

Before I announce the winner of Andra Watkins’s photo book, Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time (see interview post here), you have to put up with a soapbox rant.

With this being Children’s Book Week, I’m reminded of conversations I’ve had over the years with people about writing for kids. Some conversations have been fruitful; others frustrating.

journal

When one questioner asked what I worked on, and I responded, “A novel for kids,” the follow-up question was, “When are you going to do some real writing?” Translation: “When are you going to write for adults?” Because adult writing is “real” writing.

I doubt anyone asked J. K. Rowling, “When are you going to do some real writing?” while she wrote her Harry Potter series. I can’t imagine anyone asking John Green that either.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against writing for adults. I’ve written books for adults. I simply prefer to write middle grade and young adult novels. It is a conscious choice. That is why my grad school program was Writing for Children and Young Adults. Catchy, huh?

cover-clip-art

Still, I’m always amazed at some who have expressed the view that writing for children is somehow inferior to that for adults. After all, they’re kids, right? What do they know about quality? Those who expressed that view to me, cited books and movies with fart jokes and such to make their case, then blithely state, “This isn’t Shakespeare.” As if there weren’t adult books and movies with fart jokes (Dumb and Dumber; many Adam Sandler movies; click here if you doubt that)—creations many adults would label “as far from Shakespeare as East is from West.” Again, I am not putting these down. I have seen many Adam Sandler movies. But I sense a double standard here.

I’ve also heard people talk about how “easy” writing a book or curriculum for children is. In regard to curriculum writing, someone once asked me, “You get paid to do that?” I wish I was kidding. But that remarks harks back to the view that writing for children is somehow inferior, especially if my getting paid for it is a question in someone’s mind.

When in the midst of writing anything for a child, I think of a car seat. Why, you ask, would I do that? Consider how picky many parents are about car seats. They want the best car seat money can buy to keep their child safe. They wouldn’t dare buy something they assume is inferior. So why not have that same view about what a child reads.

Trust me: a child will think about the stories he or she has read a lot longer than he or she thinks about that car seat. Who among us is unable to recall a story that enthralled us when we were kids? More than likely, we can instantly name wonderful stories we read decades ago.

That’s why kids deserve my best efforts. The people I know who produce books for kids have the same viewpoint.

And lest anyone think that writing a book for kids is easy, perhaps you should take a look below at the Goodreads question-and-answer session with Jacqueline Woodson, who won the 2014 National Book Award, the 2015 Newbery Honor, and the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work—Youth/Teens for this book:

jacqueline-woodson-book-awards20821284

Congratulations on winning the NBA award! What comes next for you?
Jacqueline Woodson I’m not working on anything right now. Brown Girl Dreaming took over three years and more than 31 revisions (I stopped counting!)

Woodson’s response shows an admirable dedication to quality. This is not to say that every book has to have that number of revisions. I’ve never revised a book that many times!

I’m also reminded of Markus Zusak’s most celebrated book: The Book Thief. In his TEDTalk (click here), he discusses his revision process for it. He has the same dedication to quality. His book, by the way, was a Printz Honor award winner in 2007 and was on the bestseller list for years.

19063 Zusak Markus

Okay. The soapbox rant is over. Time to give away Andra’s book.

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It is my pleasure to announce that the winner of Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time is none other than . . .

Than . . .

Than . . .

Than . . .

Naomi of Bmoreenergy!

Congratulations, Naomi! Please confirm by commenting below. Also, please email!

Journal and pen from cauldronsandcupcakes.files.wordpress.com. Children clip art from vinesspeechtx.wordpress.com. Jacqueline Woodson from autostraddle.com. studio360.org. Book covers from Goodreads. Markus Zusak from thehouseofbooks.com.

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45 thoughts on “Writing for Children: “Real” Writing

  1. I tend to write New Adult, so does that mean I just scrape into the “real writer” category? Or is it only really deep, mature adult writers who do the proper writing?

    People really don’t give kids the credit they deserve. I think it’s the Book Thief, there’s a review of it on GoodReads where the writer says they were initially reluctant to read it because it was marketed at YA and she therefore expected it to not be very deep or intelligent. I wasn’t that fussed on the book myself, but that review really bothered me anyway. (The writer does mention that she has seen the error of her ways).

    The last book I finished was middle-grade and I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favourite reads of 2015. (this one for the record).

    • Yes, you write new adult so you’re a “real” writer. 🙂
      Thanks for telling me about that book. It sounds like Tangled. Therefore, it sounds very fun!
      It’s sad that someone would think a YA book isn’t deep. I’m glad Zusak could prove her wrong.

      • It’s got a very Tangled vibe, which I think is partially why I loved it so much. Plus some great world-building and a really tight plot.

      • I put it on my wish list so I could remember it. Tangled is one of my favorite Disney movies, so I’m always interested in a book with a quirky premise like that.

  2. Congratulations Naomi.
    Writing for children is a great responsibility- you are firing their imaginations, and hopefully helping to set them off on the great life-long path of reading for pleasure.
    Oh-I loved The Book Thief too 🙂

  3. And then when you write for adults, you get asked when you’re going to get a ‘real job’. There’s just no winning as an author who hasn’t gotten their blockbuster movie, hit TV show, or big contract worth millions. 😛

    • Oh, Charles, I hear you. I’ve definitely heard that one. If I had a dollar for the number of times, as they say, I would be wealthy. I’m sure no one says that to George R. R. Martin.

    • This bugs me as well! A movie deal would be lovely, but if only wanted that, I’d write a screenplay. I’m writing a book because I want people to read it first and foremost!

      • It’s funny how the movie/show is now looked at as a milestone. So many interviews actually ask about choosing actors, which gets a little weird after a while. Best idea is to focus on the books and if the other mediums happen then they happen.

  4. Congratulations Naomi!
    I’m shocked by some of the remarks people have made to you, L. Marie “When are you going to do some real writing?” That’s pretty bad, but “You get paid to do that?” What is wrong with these people? Writing for children is a huge responsibility and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I’m happy E.B. didn’t feel that way. His books made me the reader that I am today.

    • Jill, I think E. B. White made many people readers.
      I can laugh now, but I didn’t then. Those remarks sting. But people have preconceived ideas about life. When I received a royalty check, no one said anything about finding a “real” job then.

  5. The inane comments that people make demonstrate THEIR ignorance which is NO reflection on you and your efforts.

    * What you think of me is none of my business. ~ Wayne Dyer

    * He who trims himself to suit everyone else will soon whittle himself away. ~ Raymond Hull

    * Be who you are and say what you mean, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. ~ Dr. Seuss

    * Always remember that you don’t have to be what they want you to be. ~ Mohammad Ali

    * No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

    The lack of proper perception in others is why I prefer to use an internal yardstick. Like Mary Poppins’ tape measure, it’s far more intelligible and intelligent! :mrgreen:

    Congrats to Naomi!

      • It’s easy . . . I use cheat sheets! That said, many are committed to memory because they remind me of lessons I’ve learned and want to keep in play.

        Mary Poppins rocks!

      • Good idea. I keep writing quotes down and forgetting where I put them. I need to have a journal devoted to quotes.

  6. Your post reminds me of words by C.S. Lewis in his essay, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” in which he discusses the complexities of writing for children:

    “We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children. . . . The matter of our story should be a part of the habitual furniture of our minds. This, I fancy, has been so with all great writers for children, but it is not generally understood. A critic, not long ago, said in praise of a very serious fairy tale that the author’s tongue ‘never once got into his cheek.’ But why on earth should it?–unless he had been eating a seedcake. Nothing seems to me more fatal, for this art, than an idea that whatever we share with children is, in the privative sense, ‘childish’ and that whoever is childish is somehow comic. We must meet children as equals in that area of our nature where we are equals. . . . The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized; we talk to him as man to man.

  7. I agree with what Jill wrote above. Taking on writing for children is a huge responsibility. The messages and themes embedded in the story must have some take-away value for developing minds, so it must be very carefully crafted to not send the “wrong” message.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Gwen. Yes, it is a responsibility. One of my classmates recently reminded me to consider the subtext of my story–what I’m saying between the lines. Her remark has caused me to rethink some aspects of my story overall.

  8. Oh, dear . . . I thought I’d commented and haven’t and really do concur with the comments coming through. Children’s literature fills our home, my latest purchase being a gently used copy of The Little House. My favorite college courses as an elementary education major were kiddie lit and advanced kiddie lit, and I have admiration for all who write for children of all ages, especially you.

    • Thank you. 🙂
      Children’s literature fills my place too. Thankfully there is a used bookstore close to where I live. 🙂
      You brought up a good point about children of all ages. A good story appeals to people of different ages (like Harry Potter; LOTR).

  9. I’m glad you are here to explain that writing for children is no cakewalk. And for those who don’t see the value in children’s books, I pity them. Like you said, some of our best memories come from stories we read/heard as kids. In my opinion, writing for kids is more noble and tougher than writing for adults. It’s like trying to speak a language that many of us have forgotten, so good on you, I say!

    • Thanks, Phillip. The books children read are very formative. This is not to say that they can’t read something silly and fun. But even the silliest books can be important to them (like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books).

  10. ARGH! I just want to slap people when they say stupid things like that! You keep on doing what you love and are very talented in, Linda! Haters’ gonna hate, hate, hate, hate. Glad you’re shaking it off! Congrats to Naomi. 🙂

  11. Thanks so much for the book giveaway! I look forward to perusing Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time as a companion to Not Without My Father.

    The one question I hear more than anything is, “Why don’t you just self-publish?” The answer is a complicated, and so is the decision to self-publish. I don’t think the people who ask are interested in a REAL discussion on the pros and cons or know anything about it. I think they just want to shut me up. (and anyone that’s spoken to me in person knows that’s not happening :))

    • Congrats again.
      I think some people just want to voice their opinions about what another person should do or not do. Sigh.
      Anyway, the book will be sent to you soon.

  12. Wow. So. Um… Just wow. Not quite so much in chapter books, but picture books must be PERFECTLY edited. Perfectly. If there are mistakes in spelling or grammar, they must be intentional, and it must be Obvious they are intentional. (And picture books are harder to publish successfully than any other kind of book.) And then there’s the whole writing a believable kid bit. That can be extremely difficult for a lot of adults. And there’s the “what to do with the parents without being cliche dilemma, because you usually have to remove them in some way to make the conflict believable. And then there’s the whole writing of compact sentences in fairly simple language that doesn’t talk down to a kid and helps them to expand their vocabularies without making them FEEL like they’re expanding their vocabularies…

    *coughs* You wanted help with that rant, right?

    By the way, forgot to mention Circle of Five the other day. Read that one yet?

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