I’m walking up the steps to my apartment, grocery bags in hand. My neighbor and his friend are sitting on the porch. Small talk ensues.
“Hey, how’s your book coming?”
“It’s a children’s book, right?”
“Middle grade, yeah. The characters are around 12, 13.”
“That’s so cool. Have you thought about writing a real book?”
“I mean, you know, for adults. The kind they might make a movie out of.”
If you’re a picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult author, I’d bet dollars to donuts you’ve had this conversation too. Because honestly, I think I’ve had it about a dozen times.
Despite how crass his dialogue sounds, he truly said it in an innocent, kind way. I’m sure you’re good enough – you could totally write an adult book!
(Even worse is the explanation that the success of these “real,” adult books are defined by their adaption into film. I don’t have to list the number of insanely popular movies that have been made, or are being made, based on children’s series. And seriously, how nice would it be if, just once, someone said “oh man, that was a great movie. Someone should write that book.” But this is another rant for another day.)
Back to the “real” problem – this idea that refuses to die, that children’s books are somehow inferior, not quite as legitimate, as adult books. I could list the reasons why this isn’t so – why in many ways, writing for children is more challenging than writing for adults – but chances are I’d be preaching to the choir. Instead, I’ve come up with an analogy that I’m going to pull out next time I find myself in conversation with one of these trying-to-be-supportive-but-really-just-insulting-the-heck-out-of-me folks.
You have to give an hour-long speech in front of a hundred people. You absolutely must hold their attention the entire time. You should make them laugh, but your words should also move them, make them see the world – and themselves – a little bit differently by the time you finish.
Now – would you rather those hundred people be adults, or kids?
With the exception of primary/secondary educators, librarians, and others whose careers involve working with kids, I’m pretty darn positive most adults would choose adults.
Kids intimidate adults. I witnessed this all the time as a teacher. Kids can smell a phony a mile away, and they aren’t shy about saying so. They’re super critical – of themselves, of their peers, and (perhaps most of all) of the adults in their lives. Your lame joke won’t get a pity laugh. It’s genuine laughter, or nothing at all.
Kids are clever. They know when you’re trying to manipulate them, and they’ll have none of it. They know when you’re lying, and they’ll call you out.
Kids are a hard audience to win over. When I was a teacher, we’d have a fundraiser assembly at my middle school every year. The cafeteria would be filled with eighth graders, all staring at this poor guy on stage who was trying to hype them up about selling cookie dough, pulling every cheesy marketing cliche in the book. I’d stand in the back and cringe.
Truly engaging and entertaining kids is hard. Really, really hard. Not many people can do it well.
Writing a book that truly engages and entertains kids is hard. Really, really hard. Not many people can do it well.
I write real books. What do you write?