Writing for our young readers is the most important fiction of all
A few years ago, novelist Martin Amis gave an interview in which he claimed that the only circumstances in which he would write a children’s book were if he had suffered a serious brain injury. “In my opinion,” he said, “fiction is freedom and any restriction on that is intolerable. “
putting aside the fact that it is ridiculous to think that writing children’s fiction imposes constraints on the author – otherwise it has the opposite effect – the most surprising element of the quote is the haughty contempt Friends for Young Adult Fiction. It could be argued that this is the most important fiction of all. After all, is there a serious adult reader or writer who has not spent his life reading because he discovered the love of books when he was young?
I know I did.
As a child my mom would take my siblings and I to the beautiful Carnegie Library in Dundrum every week and I was like a puppy on a leash as we walked up the path towards her, trying to get in as the gates approached entry. The kids’ section was upstairs, and I was always torn between choosing books I had never read and ones I already liked. I got lost first in Nody, then in HE Todd’s Bobby Brewster series, before discovering the joys of classic fiction: Robert Louis Stevenson, Kipling, Anna Sewell.
For my part, I had never thought of writing for young readers until the idea of The boy in the striped pajamas came to me in early 2004. But once this novel was published, I embraced the idea of moving from an older audience to a younger audience, convinced that I didn’t have to make the subject matter of my children’s stories less serious or relevant than those I wrote for adults.
Indeed, of the six books I have published for young people, three are about wartime, two deal with gender identity and one deals with the death of a parent. Not exactly comfortable, bedtime reading, but I like the idea of putting kids in adult experiences well ahead of their time and seeing how they react to it. Because, unfortunately, it happens too often in the real world.
Writers who work at the top of their game in young adult fiction today are often more creative, more interesting, and more original than their adult counterparts. They must be. When writing for young people, you should immediately capture their imaginations, grab hold of them, and not let them go until the last page. It is important that they come to the end wishing for more, not feeling grateful that it is over.
It’s that time of year when we start to think about Christmas presents and this year, luckily our bookstore doors are open again. Not to sound like a Luddite, but if you want to keep the kids in your life away from the screens, then books are the way to do it.
I know next to nothing about video games, but from what I understand, the best take the player to fantastic worlds where adventures take place. And isn’t that also what the books do?
Of every writer living at work today, there is probably only one who can be assured of having a readership in 200 years, and it was JK Rowling, who brought more joy, compassion. and enthusiasm to his readers than perhaps any writer since Charles Dickens. She also encouraged an entire generation to read, which we should all be grateful for.
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Among Irish writers we are blessed by the amazing boy book illustrator Oliver Jeffers, the creator of many whimsical and emotional picture books. Eoin Colfer has created a whole fantasy world that is the equal of any series. And if there’s a more poetic teenage writer at work today than Sarah Crossan, then I’d like to know her name.
I have often thought that one of the joys of parenting has to be sitting next to your child while they are tucked away at night and sharing with them the books you loved when you were their age, from watch how he responds to them, engage him in a world of tales that ignites their imaginations, then unleash them in a library or bookstore to make their own discoveries.
It’s not that different from life. We guide them, advise them, then free them.
But what might surprise you as an adult is the joy of engaging in contemporary writing for young people and discovering the great authors at work today.
Unfortunately, I don’t have children myself, but that doesn’t stop me from reading books intended for this audience occasionally. It reminds me that good storytelling is good storytelling no matter where in the bookstore it’s stored.