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Knowing my place

Which of these represents your view about children's books?

Childhood is a sweet and innocent time, and children's books should be about fluffy bunnies and other comforting subjects.
Childhood is a mean and dangerous time, and children's books should represent reality with all its obstacles and troubles.
Childhood is a mean and dangerous time, and therefore kids need comforting fluffy-bunny stories because that's the way life ought to be.
Children's literature should be prescriptive, describing the world kids should aspire to.
Children's literature should be descriptive, describing the world as it is and kids as they really are, for better or worse.

There are several schools of thought on writing for young people.  I don't happen to think any single school has *the* one true answer.  I'm not much of an either/or thinker.  (You may have gathered that if you've been reading this blog for a while.)  IMHO, we need all of these things.  We need the soft gentle stories and we need the hard-edged material.  We need humor and adventure, realism and fantasy, poetry and prose.  We need books for kids who have been abused and kids who have terminal illnesses; we need books for kids with best-friend troubles and growing pains.  We need books about the beauty of flowers and books about what happens to sewage when it leaves your house.  We need books for boys and books for girls, books for five-year-olds and books for fifteen-year-olds.  We need books that challenge kids and books that reassure them.

That doesn't mean I write all of the above.  My strength and my preference is with older YA, realistic, darker material.  I think it's important to know which stories are in my wheelhouse.  When I was a teen myself, I liked reading books that acknowledged the world I saw around me, books that acknowledged that life is horrible sometimes and yet we manage to go on.  Some people read to escape from the world; I read to help me cope with the world.  And it turns out that my development as a writer has been shaped by my preferences as a reader.

I like seeing the larger world of literature, and identifying my niche in it.  Have you found your niche(s)?

Comments

I think mine goes more like this:

Childhood is filled with different kinds of young readers, who wants fantasy OR humor OR reality OR suspense OR action-adventure. Children's literature should supply addiction-producing books for ALL those readers. :)

Edited at 2009-05-12 01:12 am (UTC)
True, some readers only read certain things. Others read more widely. Maybe it's "and/or!"
I think what I always looked for the most when I was young and reading YA books was a mystery that lead to discovery - and not just learning whodunit, but discovery about life and the world. Sometimes even simply learning to see your own family with clearer eyes.

As for my niche as a writer, well, while I am working on branching out into different sub-genres, at heart I'm an Epic Fantasy, multi-generational storyteller.
I admire people who can write epics. I like reading them sometimes, but haven't been drawn to try writing one.
"Children's literature should be prescriptive, describing the world kids should aspire to."

I think that describes me best, although I don't think children's literature "should be" any one thing.
I definitely feel a greater sense of responsibility when I'm writing for a younger audience than when I write for adults.
What I wanted to read when I was a child was about kids who were having a worse life than I was so that minde didn't feel so bad. Then I wanted to read about happy families so I had material on how to imagine my own a little differently.

I wonder if writers ever find their niche and then fear what they have found?
It's not always easy to write what we know we need to write.
I really needed to read that comment just now.

Thanks :D
Thanks for stopping by!
I always liked a little bit of everything, and I would read just about anything. The one series that seemed to really run the gamut (at least when I was younger) was K.A. Applegate's Animorphs. Those were sci-fi, but they were about so much more: humor, grim realities of war, nature, everyday banalities like chores, adventure, friendships, politics, mystery...in one book the characters would struggle with complex moral decisions--like which was crueler, killing someone outright or allowing them to live a miserable existence--and not always come to a single right answer (which informed my approach to a lot of moral issues). Then one book later you could have ridiculous battles involving instant ginger maple oatmeal as a weapon, or aliens with shrink rays. Morphing into animals could be an escape from horror, or a descent into it.

There were a lot of complex themes and questions going on in that series, stuff I didn't even pick up on at the time but that I really appreciate now. The best YA fiction are books that I can pick up today and still get something out of as an adult. Animorphs has this, as do plenty of others.

'Course, there's plenty to be said for pure silliness, too.
They do sound delightfully complex!
Um, none of those really fit my view, and options 1 through 4 are all decidedly OUT. If I have to pick, that leaves me with 5 as an option, but it doesn't really sing to me either. Because yes, we need description, but we should also be helping kids to find their way, providing them with that roadmap that Richard Peck likes to talk about, and offering support, comfort and guidance (gently) where possible. Because just describing stuff doesn't cut it.
Hmm, if I ever use a road-map approach, I suppose I like to put dots on the map and let the reader connect them.
Interesting! I think I slant toward #5 as a reader. I love it when I feel a little thrill of truth as I'm reading. I tend to prefer a sort of edgy realism, viewed through the lens of fantasy--a world slightly different from ours which can teach us something about being human that's totally applicable without being prescriptive.
This may account for the current popularity of urban fantasy!

(Anonymous)

Hmm. I have trouble relating to any of the definitions. Basically, I think that children books should be "true" as any good adult book is "true". The only difference is that children's book could deal more with the things that kids can relate to, keeping in mind that they can relate to a vaster variety of themes than adults imagine.

This is mainly because my 6 year old son adores dark themes. He has read all the Lemony Snickett books, and he likes "Redvol" series. Both of which I have deemed too dark for *my* tastes and might have vetoed them if I was a better mother and kept closer eye on his choices in literature. When I was a kid, I also had lots of dark and gloomy stories I enjoyed. Well, actually almost all good children books have dark streak in them - think Astrid Lindgren, think Lewis Carroll with the poor piglet who's beaten when he sneezes, think nearly all fairy-tales. I think children simply see them differently.

Then again, there is a demand for fluffy children books for the kids who are sensitive to any kind of violence or dark themes. As well as for grown-ups who like to think about childhood as a "happy time" :)

/ Ieva, http://www.creativity.lv/birdcherry
Your response reminded me that I went through a phase when I was about 10 of reading horror novels that I couldn't stomach today.
Maybe we sometimes need to acknowledge that we all have impulses and interests that aren't "pretty," and a constructive way to look at and channel them.
We read as children for the same reasons. So I also find myself drawn to write about darkness and redemption. Middle grades, though. I've only finished one book, though, so I'm not sure where I'll go next. Looking forward to finding out, though!
Yes, there's no need to limit ourselves!
Good point--neither a "safe, happy" story nor a "dark, intense" story will succeed if they're based on falseness, if the writer hasn't really committed to the work.

Both/and

I'd like to think it's a combination of those (i.e., childhood, and life in general, can be pretty rough and literature should reflect that reality, but should show the proscriptive hope that could be if we--adults included--aspired to that).

Re: Both/and

Some people define that as the difference between children's and adult literature--that children's should have a sense of hope at the end, even if the ending is sad. But as with any rule, someone always finds an exception!

(Anonymous)

Wow,what a line!

"Some people read to escape from the world; I read to help me cope with the world."

I think I should quote you from now on!

Re: Wow,what a line!

Thanks. I don't know how quote-worthy I am, but I'll try. :-)
Sorry forgot to sign in before commenting

I will go with options 4 and 5 - books describing the world, that resonate with good values without being preachy.

"Some people read to escape from the world; I read to help me cope with the world"

I too read to help me cope with the world. I think I have identified my niche and I try to write the books I love to read.
I always found it comforting when the characters didn't solve their problems magically.

the plot thickens

The variety of answers you provide helps me better understand how some people interpret a picture book ms I have written about a mom and a dad who only feed their children cookies. Some people are disgusted that the parents aren't fluffier bunnies...

I have written a quiz on Facebook called, "Children's Writers: Where Are You At?" (QuizMonster) I think you might like it if you have a chance to take it.

Re: the plot thickens

There's room for both sweetness and snark on the shelves!

I am not on Facebook (I had to draw my online line somewhere, to give me time to write!) but your comment's up here in case others are interested.

Too Many Shoulds

I don't think you should listen to any shoulds in what kind of story to write — either for children or adults. I think, as writers, we need to find our own stories, our own characters and write them as they come to us. Trying to satisfy someone else's vision of what will sell in a given market is folly. The best stories and characters come to us when we least expect them.

Re: Too Many Shoulds

Certainly. But people have different expectations of what a "children's book" is, and I find it fascinating to articulate those expectations. It would be a horror if everyone had to write the same kind of book!