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.

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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?

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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:

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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.

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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.

Cover Reveal: Skyscraping

Stand by for some awesomeness. Are you ready? Boom.

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Now that I have your attention by this gorgeous cover, let me give you the stats. This awesome novel in verse was written by a friend and fellow VCFA alum, the fabulous Cordelia Jensen.

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But wait, there’s more. Check out the synopsis for Skyscraping:

A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgiveness

Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.

Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.

And check out this blurb:

Skyscraping is brilliant, sharp and bright. A stellar story. Jensen has written a powerful tale about love and loss, a story that will stick with readers long after they’ve reached the end. Her poetry is vivid, tangible, and visceral. She’s a rising star with a breathtaking debut. This is a novel made of star stuff.
       —Skila Brown, author of
Caminar

Skyscraping, edited by Liza Kaplan and published by Philomel, debuts June 2, 2015. But you can preorder it right here. Look for it on Goodreads also.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you can preorder Skyscraping from the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Email orders@bigbluemarblebooks.com or call 215-844-1870. In January, you also can preorder Skyscraping at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores.

Stay tuned! Cordelia will be interviewed on the blog a little closer to the pub date for Skyscraping. In the meantime, you can catch up with her at her website and Twitter. Here’s more about Cordelia:

Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 and 2007. She is a Writer in Residence at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens and conducts author interviews for their blog. She also teaches in the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.