Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why Do You Write For Children?

Did anyone else catch Pamela Paul’s terrific article in The New York Times Sunday Book Review about the growing ranks of grown-ups who are hooked on reading YA? She cited the stat that nearly 20 percent of 35-to-44-year-olds say they most frequently buy YA books…for themselves.

I loved some of the reasons her interviewees gave as to why they’re YA addicts…

1. “Adult literature is all art and no heart.”
2. “Good YA is like good television…there’s a freshness there; it’s engaging.
3. “YA authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people.”
4. “…YA is one of the few areas of literature right now where storytelling really thrives.”
5. “….the books have this wonder in everyday things that isn’t bogged down by excessively grown-up concerns or the need to be subtle or coy.”
6. “There’s an immediacy in the prose.”

This got me wondering: Are these similar to the reasons why I choose to write for children? I’m not sure I agree with number 1, but I’d definitely add numbers 2 through 6 to my list.

I have other reasons, yes, but they’re not nearly as interesting as those given by Isaac Bashevis Singer, when he accepted the National Book Award in 1970, which I found online.*

“Why I Write for Children” by Isaac Bashevis Singer

There are five hundred reasons why I began to write for children, but to save time I will mention only ten of them.
Number 1. Children read books, not reviews. They don’t give a hoot about the critics.
Number 2. Children’ don’t read to find their identity.
Number 3. They don’t read to free themselves of guilt, to quench their thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.
Number 4. They have no use for psychology.
Number 5. They detest sociology.
Number 6. They don’t try to understand Kafka or Finnegan’s Wake.
Number 7. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.
Number 8. They love interesting stories, not commentaries, guides, or footnotes.
Number 9. When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.
Number 10. They don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions.

Some list, huh?

So, Paper Wait readers, I’d love to know: Why do you write for children?

*Reprinted in Nobel Lecture, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1978.


  1. J.L. - I agree with you to disagree about #1 on Pamela Paul's list. But I also disagree with Isaac Bashevis Singer's #3. Of course, all of this is generalization, but I do think some kids read to find a place that offers an alternate reality, that's better than their own. That might include finding a safe place to alleviate guilt, rebel, or feel as if they belong.

    That said, I don't really know why I write for children. I just do. It's what I write. I don't think I would even know how to write for an adult.

    Someone wise once said that to write for children you have to have an inner child - an age which you never left, and that's who you write for. I guess I'm perpetually 16, which is scary, 'cause I didn't like being 16 when I was!

  2. Why do I write for children? I can think of a few reasons. I started writing as a child, so my characters were kids from the beginning. I think adult books tell too much; MG and YA novels show. And I think MG and YA books are more apt to combine commercial appeal with literary merit; adult books seem more one or the other.

  3. Meg: I agree with you re: Singer's #3. As for my inner child, she must be 12, which was a very good year for me. Does this mean I still carry an inner torch for the boy who liked me in 7th grade? He's a prominent MD now, so it's probably true!

    Marcia: I love your reasons and, as both a reader and writer, I agree that showing almost always trumps telling.

  4. I'm not sure why I write for children either...I think maybe because the sky's the limit? And also, as Meg said, my inner child is sixteen. So much happens during those volatile years, it's hard to run out of material!

  5. Nicely said, Robin.

    I have a question for you PB writers out there. Would you say that your inner child is between the ages of four and eight?

  6. Why, why, why do I write for children?

    Because when my boys started reading middle grade, something clicked inside for me. I absolutely loved the books they were reading and loved talking to them about it. When I started writing, middle grade is what flowed out of me. It hasn't stopped since.

  7. J.A: I hear you loud and clear. My two boy, ages 8 and 10, are reading MG right now. At night, during reading time, we'll sit side-by-side, reading our MG books together. It's bliss!

  8. Another interesting stat from that article - "47% of 18-to-24-year old women and 24% of same-aged men say most of the books they buy are classified as young adult."

  9. I believe that stat, Gale. My daughter and her friends, all around age 25, some married with kids, are reading The Book Thief.

  10. In my critique group, we talked about how we personally feel connected to certain ages in our lives, some of us to our teenage selves (our YA writers) I said I still feel in touch with my inner five year old. The woman next to me held up four fingers and said "4" She was really in the moment-- being her four year old self!
    Also, what's more beautiful than a picture book? Caps for Sale still makes me happier than any adult fiction (with the possible exception of Jane Austen)

  11. Gale: I was most surprised to read that so many men in that 18-24 age group read YA.

    Marcia: The Book Thief is a favorite for several members of this critique group, too.

    CL: Thanks for sharing that story about your critique buddy holding up four fingers. It made me smile.

    Those cross-genre writers are lucky. They're able to access all their inner children.

  12. I write for children because anything can happen in a children's book. As long as you are a credible guide, a child will go anywhere with you.

  13. Great point, Julie. When you're writing for children, not even the sky's the limit! It's a total kick.