The first question I’m asked as an emerging author is why I write children’s fiction—middle grade and young adult. It’s a question I’ve contemplated ever since I drafted the first paragraph of my first novel. Many good writers say that a story comes to you the way it comes to you, so just embrace it. In my case, a story tends to come to me through the eyes and voice of a child or young adult.
Growing up as an avid reader, much of my childhood was surrounded and shaped by fantastic teen novels and series. Whether about sports, mysteries, or just everyday kids going to school or having sleepovers, I couldn’t get enough of these sweet books. Although, in today’s terms, I would have been identified as a “STEM girl” (as a space buff, I could name all Mercury 7 astronauts in order, like a boy band), you still couldn’t pry a Nancy Drew Files out of my hands.
But that’s not the only reason I write “kidlit.” For myself and many children’s authors, it’s a creative outlet for our wonderful childhood memories. As a child of the 1980’s and teenager through the 1990’s, I don’t envy the cell phone, internet, social media worlds of kids today. There’s a reason so much of the past seems to come back, whether in TV shows, toys, or even foods. We cherish these moments and wish to pass them on to future generations. It’s about bringing back the warm and fuzzy feelings from that time.
In an interview with the acclaimed author, Rebecca Stead, about her Newbery-winning novel, When You Reach Me, she addressed why it was set in the 1970’s, the decade when she grew up. She said because of the freedom that timeframe gave children, that is so rare today. Instead of arranged playdates with constant parental supervision, I remember summers riding my bike (sans helmet) all around the neighborhood for hours with only a single phone call home (from my friend’s landline). I get it. It’s a “different world out there.” But it doesn’t keep me from wishing it wasn’t the case and being a bit bummed about it.
When I write, I take into consideration the current circumstances of the world and channel my inner-childhood memories and experiences. My characters are given the freedom to make and keep cherished friendships. They explore the world around them, ask questions, and make mistakes and learn from them. All those things still matter and are essential to growing up.
Finally, I write children’s literature because I wish to steer the genre back toward the young readers who crave it. Of course, I love for anyone of any age to enjoy my stories. But this genre is first and foremost written for impressionable kids and young people. And with that, leaves a tremendous responsibility, to create the best stories and characters, that help shape young people’s minds . . .
Just like those teen novels did for me years ago, I hope my stories can similarly serve as a guiding light—this time away from the glow of a cell phone.