How not to write about children’s literature

Image: snappybex (Flickr)

Inspired by this, and also this, here’s four things to avoid when you write about children’s literature. Thanks!

Don’t be a snob, yeah?

Children’s Literature is awesome. Children’s books are those for a very brilliant, very specific tribe. This tribe knows exactly what it wants, and what it wants is to be inspired, to be afraid, to laugh, to fall in love, to learn about life. And the very best writers deliver that in spades.

Children’s Literature isn’t about dumbed down ideas, or conceptual hammers. It is about writing brave, bold and outstanding books that challenge, comfort and provoke our senses. Writing for this audience isn’t the easy option.

Don’t let the man get you down

There are too many pieces on the internet and in the mainstream media bemoaning how the internet has given a (and I paraphrase here) a voice to the voiceless (HT @CMPunk). One I read recently particularly bemoaned how the ‘quality’ of criticism was suffering due to the rise in blogging.


If you’re posting something that basically goes ZOMG KATNISS ❤ <3, it maybe doesn’t have high literary merit, nor six years worth of academic theoretical research. But what it does have is validity. Because you wrote it. You, the reader, you read the book and you reacted and you wrote something in response. You engaged with this book. You’ve just done something pretty damn amazing. *High Fives*

Have an opinion. Write your piece. Please. Please don’t ever stop writing.  Don’t ever think you can’t. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. Don’t let the man get you down. Your opinion matters so very much.

Also, a sub-section of this rule could really be: Don’t call blogging “the detriment of literature“. Just don’t eh?

The age thing really doesn’t matter

Trust me, it doesn’t. Children’s literature is quite unique in that it has to appeal to both the ‘adult’ and the ‘juvenile’ reader in a way that, say, Chesil Beach never can.  There’s data out there* that says 55% of YA (Young Adult ie: 13yrs+) books are being purchased by people over 18, and usually being purchased for themselves to read (78% of the time), so the fairly arbitrary definition of ‘Young Adult’ really doesn’t make any difference to the consumer. Don’t be surprised when you see these books in the hands of ‘adults’ – because they’ve, in all likelihood, been there for quite some time.

*My thanks to @YAYeahYeah for finding the original source of this data for me.

This ain’t simple stuff

Picture books and early readers are incredibly complex and near arcane creations. They are amazing. I picked up one of the titles my nephew is reading (a generic reading scheme book) and was amazed to see the subtle structures in place. The double page spread (two pages) I had a look at, had a fairly simple scene of a pack of dogs chasing a cat. The verso page  (left in English language books) characters bled over into the recto (right), and ultimately converged on the far edge of the page. This spread was constructed in such a way to practically force the reader to turn the page (therefore teaching them book behaviour, the movement of language, the concept of narrative, and the idea of action being continuous over pages and into the unknown page on the next side). Call that simple? Fine. We’ve not even begun to discuss colours, and compositional line structure, and semiotics and paratexts … Don’t ever tell me these books are of a lesser value because they’re not. Not at all.

So what would you add? Let me know … 🙂

11 thoughts on “How not to write about children’s literature

  1. Nice post. There really are some remarkable picture books out there, I agree – moving, funny, you name it. I’d be curious how many Middle Grade books are read by adults too. Nothing beats the mix of wonder and seriousness in some of those.

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