Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Don't Write A Childrens' Book

Those of you who follow my YouTube channel will doubtless know that, when it comes to letting children read, I tend to get a little wound up. "A little" here translating as "tense as a ten-mile crossbow loaded with elephants made of watermelons".

You may also be aware that I tried to write a childrens' fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo this year. And that I failed horribly.

Writing for children, surprisingly, is not easy. Nor, I have come to think, should it be.

The books we read as children are, essentially, our first contact with a cultural force completely independent of our immediate experience. Removed from the immediacy of the moment, we take up a new role - that of the observer who, while not part of the events taking place, is nonetheless affected by them.

When in the role of the observer, we see more. The more we see, the more we thinks and, one way or another, the more we learn. This is not only on the moral front, either. We learn, through reading, to expect. We learn standards.

Those standards are the reason why writing for children is so difficult, and also so important.

If childrens' books were not good books in their own way, the standards we were exposed to would also not be good ones. We would learn to expect less. We would learn that the way we were considered and treated by these books was not with any real degree of respect for our intelligence and potential. We would learn, in the end, that books reflected the real world: childrens' voices do not count for much, and thus do not mean much. So their books, too, don't mean much.

Reading is about more than entertainment. Yes, particularly for children, reading should be enjoyable - elsewise they might just be put off altogether, and that's a slippery slope indeed. However, a children's book should not just be something hammered out to keep the little tyke entertained for a couple of hours while you get on with something more important.

Children's books should be of a standard where you know that they are learning something. Even if the book is not teaching them a lesson - which, let's be honest, most books do whatever their audience - presenting a child with good books presents them with good standards, and that in turn inspires something vitally important. Respect.

Adult reviewers tear books to shreds for not respecting, or even testing, the intelligence of the reader. An adult book that talks down to its readers, shows no effort on the part of the author to be anything more than mindless entertainment hashed out for the sake of a bank account boost towards an expensive car or a slot on the morning news show, is not a book that occupies any particularly important space in our lives or in the wider world of cultural expression.

Why, then, are we happy to let things slide as being "for kids"? I'm not saying we should be forcing expansive material down their throats from the instant they recognise their own names on the page, but the sheer number of celebrities who turn to writing childrens' books in the vain hopes of staying in the spotlight and gaining a moment's positive attention is horrendous. Looking at you, Katie Price.

If you're going to write a children's book, don't do it dismissively. Don't underestime what a book means to a person, particularly to a person who has not read that many yet. Books have legacies. Books shape us. Books teach us.

If you're going to write a children's book, write a book that might do for a child what that well-loved and lovingly-mauled old paperback on your shelf taught you when you were huddled up in the library during a damp afternoon.

Don't write a childrens' book. Write adventure, write fun, write peril, write hope and fear and loss and love. Write a damn good book.

Write a damn good book, and the kids really will be alright.

~ Charley R

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