The Wonderful World of Kid Lit

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the world of children’s literature is being unfairly tackled lately.

First, the New York Times published an article in October, entitled “Picture Books No Longer A Staple for Children,” (apologies – this link sometimes opens with an ad you have to skip) in which they suggested that picture books would soon be dead due to the high cost per unit and the fact that they’re too easy and parents are pushing their children to read chapter books sooner.

Those of us who write picture books (and lots of other sensible people) understand that their value is inestimable, both in terms of what children can learn from them on so many levels, and in terms of quality of time spent reading them for parent and child.  But it took letters to the editor and a retaliatory article in Publisher’s Weekly in December to refute the claims of the NYTimes article, and the general public’s perception of the worth of picture books was affected in the meantime.

This weekend, it was YA literature which took a hit.  The Wall Street Journal published an article called “Darkness Too Visible” which stated that “contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence, and depravity” and wonders “why this is considered a good idea?”

Really?

That’s all they see in YA literature?

Sure, there are books that have vampire, werewolf and zombie characters (some might call this story-telling and entertainment), and sure, there are books that deal with difficult topics.  But isn’t that the point of literature?  Isn’t it important to have books that speak to all kinds of readers?  Don’t we want our teenagers reading?

I think we’re lucky to live in an age when there is such a broad range of writing.  Some of the best writing there is has been done for YA.  How can people look at the scope of YA literature and conclude that it’s all too dark?

What about Sarah Dessen?  Joan Bauer?  The many other authors who write with humor and understanding about coming of age and the experience of being a teenager in today’s world?

And why is literature taking the hit?  What about computer/video games, TV shows, movies, and the internet?

One can always find examples of something if one is looking.  But to claim that all YA lit is dark and depraved seems to me a gross oversimplification.

I would argue that for many teens who are struggling with the darker issues, YA literature is a place they can find solace and understanding, feel that they are not alone in their struggles, see how characters overcome their problems and how these issues may be resolved.  If YA writers reach and help teens, how can that be a bad thing?

Forgive me if I sound a little steamed, but I think both picture books and YA lit are being unfairly presented.

What do you think?  Are picture books useless/dead?  Is YA literature an abyss of darkness?  What do you think of these articles?  Are they presenting an objective view?  Is this really how people perceive picture books and YA?  Should we, as writers, change what we write and how we write it?

Books Journey

I went to a very good, highly regarded all girls private school (back in ancient times) but two things they never did were bring in authors or teach us much about the creative writing process.  (My father also feels they neglected geography, but that’s another story…)

I thought authors were akin to gods – certainly not real people – and to me, a life of writing didn’t seem like an option.  Journalism, OK – but not creative writing.  People from my school became doctors, lawyers, and senators.  Those that became stay-at-home moms tried not to attract too much attention because with an education like ours you were supposed to be out there doing something with it (as if using it to raise happy, well-adjusted, good kids isn’t important… but that’s also another story!)

Anyway, the point is, I visit a lot of public schools whose reputations probably can’t hold a candle to my alma mater, but they do invite authors and illustrators and put a lot more effort into showing kids first hand that the creative life is an option.

One local school in particular has been running a terrific program for 4 or 5 years now.  They call it Books Journey, and it’s a program for fourth graders.  It is kicked off by local authors and illustrators (and we are lucky – there are a lot of us in the Hudson Valley!) coming in to talk about their creative process and the creative spark – how they generate ideas.

The kids are then each given a journal, and during dedicated class time, they begin writing their own books.  After a couple of weeks, I come in – and that’s what I’m doing today and tomorrow!  My job is to help them keep going after the initial spark has worn off and they are stuck.  We talk about characters, setting, obstacles, raising the stakes, crafting a satisfying ending etc., and how to keep going when you’re not sure what to do.

The kids then go back and finish their stories.  Then the school has a couple of professional editors come in and talk about editing, followed by a book cover designer who teaches the kids about the importance of cover design.  Finally, they have a marketing specialist come in and teach them about how professional authors market their books.

At the very end, they have a book fair, where all 100 or so of the books are on display for students, teachers and parents to look at.

It’s an amazing program, one I wish more schools could do.  It does take a lot of organization, but it is so worthwhile for the kids.  You should see how proud they are of their finished books!

So today and tomorrow, I’m off to teach fourth graders.  Wish me luck and good communications skills so I can be really helpful to them – who knows?  A future great novelist may be among them 🙂

Do you know of schools who do a particularly good job of teaching writing?  What do they do?

Book Talk

I love books.

I love reading books and writing books.  I love buying books for myself and for other people.  I love getting books as gifts.

As far as I’m concerned, there are few things as lovely as a stack of books you can’t wait to read.  What worlds await?  What characters will there be to get to know?  What experiences will there be to imagine yourself in?

The only hard part is deciding what to read first, because I never have as much time to read as I’d like!

My current stack includes What Happened To Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (I love Sarah Dessen), The A Circuit by Georgina Bloomberg and Catherine Hapka (I love books about horses), Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (I loved A Year Down Yonder and if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it), Secret Of The Night Ponies by Joan Harlow (never read anything by her before), and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (which has gotten great reviews.)

What great books have you read recently, and what’s in your to-read stack now?  Please share!