Thursday, September 14, 2006

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!


Libby Koponen said...
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alvinaling said...

Hey, yeah! I was actually planning on posting about a similar thing tomorrow--what makes me so qualified to edit for kids? To choose what books get published?

I think the point is that not all kids like the same thing--sure, there are books like Harry Potter that most kids like, but there are those out there who don't like them, too. We need authors, illustrators, and editors who have different tastes to ensure that the books we produce are varied enough to cover the spectrum of preferences out there.

Libby Koponen said...
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Meghan McCarthy said...

Alvina, you're so right. As a bookseller I often get asked the most annoying question-- "What book is a good for a five year old boy." I always say the same thing. "I can give you the stereotypical boy books but each child has his or her own likes and dislikes. Do you know anything about the child?" The shopper always says "no" and then looks annoyed. It's even trickier when trying to help a customer buy a novel for the older kids. I explain again and again that kids have opinions just as adults do. I wouldn't want to direct a kid to sci-fi if they hate it! The shopper always looks annoyed at me when i explain that as well. There are also those little kids who are super interested in certain subjects and can digest way more than the age group dictates. Facts about dinosaurs and so on...

So yes, to sum up my babbling, I agree!

Anna Alter said...

When I used to teach preschool I experienced the same horror as you Meghan, when seemingly reasonable parents would walk their kids into class clutching the latest Barbie fairy tale book or movie knock-off... and the kid would loooooove it! Why? Because they saw it on tv, or like you said, associate the book with something, like the way its read to them, that turns it into a thing they are attached to. Interesting. I guess books serve a lot of purposes. Sometimes they expand the imagination, and sometimes they are like a favorite blankey.

roz said...

What a great post.
I'm a "lurker" that recently found your blog via Meghans website blog.
Hope it's okay to post and say hi.
I find your blue rose blog so insightful.

Anonymous said...

A better ode to library bookshelves never existed. Take your kid to the bookstore and devil take the consequences. Take your kid to the library and zippo Scooby-Doo spinning racks in sight. Ahhhh.....