Friday, April 4, 2008

Why Write for Kids?

Anyone who’s written for young people long enough eventually comes up against the question, “Why write for kids?” After all, we are adults, usually with college educations and our fair share of adult life experiences. So why do we spend our time interpreting the world for humans who weren’t even born when Bill Clinton became president?

My answer is probably similar to that of the other authors on this blog. Kids are naturally curious about the world around them, and they often embrace our books with an urgency and passion that adults rarely have. When a subject interests them, kids look to an expert to explain it to them in terms they can understand. It’s a humbling experience to try and fill that role.

When tackling a topic, I use the same standards for research that I would use in writing for adults, and while the writing itself may be characterized by fewer sophisticated words and shorter sentences, it is in no way “dumbed down.” I hate that term. The most important quality I bring to my writing is respect—for both my subject and my readers. I never lose sight of the readers when I write because as a kid, I was far from a bookworm. I much preferred the quicker pace of the daily newspaper. Now I work hard to ensure that the rhythm and pace of my writing are as engaging as the subject matter.

Writing for kids also gives me the chance to satisfy my curiosity. When I tackle a subject, I explore it from all different angles, draw my own conclusions, and share them with an audience. I’m currently working on a picture book about the first women’s intercollegiate basketball game, between Stanford and UC Berkeley in 1896. I’ve written about the game before, in an article for the New York Times on its 100th anniversary. While that article placed the 1896 contest in historical context and related it to the later evolution of the women’s game, my research for the picture book has focused more on the stories of the individual players. On a trip to San Francisco, I also met with the current coaches of the Stanford and Berkeley (now called Cal) women’s basketball teams. This weekend, 112 years after the Stanford women won that initial contest, their modern-day counterparts are playing in the Final Four, going for the national title. As I cheer for this 21st-century team, I’ll also be thinking of the bloomer-clad pioneers on whose shoulders they stand. I can’t wait to bring their accomplishments to life for emergent readers.

Go Stanford!


Gretchen Woelfle said...

What a wonderful subject for a picture book! Can't wait to read it. However as a Berkeley alum, I must add: Go Cal!

Sue Macy said...

Gretchen: I developed a great appreciation of the 1896 Cal players when I was up there--and I loved the school and its library. But Stanford's team is fantastic this year.

By the way, I really liked your blog on photo sources.

Unknown said...

A well kept secret that should not be so well kept is that if you're interested in learning something new, read a kid's book on the subject.