I spend a lot of time reading children’s books – the 9 to14 year old kind. I find it interesting that these stories, which are often magnificently crafted, never shy away from difficult topics. There is the assumption that children’s literature is light and fluffy. Some of it is, I suppose, but for the most part, there seems to be this acknowledgement that children of this age, especially children who read, are dealing with intensely emotional issues. Themes like being an outcast, orphaned, losing a loved one, having to do things that terrify, and the general cruelty of the world are not glossed over but rather painted in aching clarity by the writer’s words.
There is a beautiful quote by Madeline L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time and other incredible works) that says:
You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grownups, you write it for children.
I would have scoffed at a statement like that if I hadn’t spent so much time reading books aimed at this age group. At times they are more gut-wrenchingly honest than their adult counterparts. The plots are intricate and complex, the characters beautifully flawed. And of course, these readers have not yet become cynical and unable to stretch their imaginations to the impossible.
I have come to love some incredible authors from both modern and classic children’s literature. Philip Reeve, Paul Stewart, Chris Riddell, Neil Gaiman, Cornelia Funke, Ursula Le Guin, Catherine Banner, Julie Bertagna, Geraldine McCaughrean, CS Lewis, Roald Dahl… There are so many who have make me hold my breath as I waited to see what would happen and I know there are other astounding authors out there that I haven’t discovered yet.
So, stop looking down your nose at children’s authors, as if adult literature were some end goal that all writers should aim for. Instead, realise them for who they are – fellow storytellers, inspiring and influencing a new generation of readers and possibly writers.
And if you don’t believe me, check out this podcast from Writing Excuses on Writing for Children.