Sunday, May 15, 2011

from the BRG archives: What makes us so qualified to write for kids?

I ask myself this question a lot. I also often ponder who knows what kids will like and why and then I ask if it’s possible to entirely determine what the picture book age will like at all. Do authors know best? Do editors know best? Librarians? What about those pesky reviewers? Consider the picture books you liked as a kid. Why did you like them? Was it the story? The illustrations? Was it the way your mom or dad read to you? Can an adult read to a child in a certain, excited way that will make them like the book despite the so-so storyline? I asked my mom why she never read us kids Dr. Suess, for example. She said “Because I never liked Dr. Suess. I read to you kids the books that I liked.” Then again, as I recall, there was a book that my little sis LOVED that I know my mom got bored with pretty quickly. It was called Bear By Himself. None of us could figure it out… yet she loved it.

SO many things go into what influences kids… the same as adults. They watch TV and then want the next superman book. That’s why they can’t be trusted to pick out books for themselves at the bookstore! I’ve watched them in action.
Mom says—pick out one of these books that you’d like Mommy to read…
Kid—goes straight for the spinner rack
Mom—Honey, no, not Scooby Doo
Kid—Ignores mom and continues pulling out Scooby Doo books
Mom—Honey you’re making a mess. Please put the books away and come sit down so we can read a story
Kid—continues making a pile and starts shoving Scooby Doo books in mom’s face
Mom—shakes head
Kid—knocks down the whole rack of books and booksellers come running.
Mom—gives up on reading a book and lets kid buy a sticker book
Hmmm, maybe kids aren’t reading at all! This is why authors are poor!

Anyway, one thing I do know—children’s book authors are in touch with that inner child. They REMEMBER being a child probably better than most people. They will never forget their likes and dislikes. It’s not enough to witness your kid doing something cute and then turn it into a story. Kids don’t want to read about themselves all the time. They want to live out their fantasies… get out their frustrations… and so on. Let's just hope all those parents aren't buying sticker books!

Originally published September 14, 2006

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