Well, you know the adage for adults: women are from venus, men are from mars? Well, kids are actually a completely different species, entirely. Are they even human?
Kidding, of course. In Chapter 9 if Gordon’s Writing Bestselling Children’s Books, he encourages us to spy on these odd aliens from another world. Like we people watched in an earlier chapter, this time we kid-watch. Like Bill Odie’s Springwatch, only more dangerous.
As Gordon says: don’t fool yourself into thinking you can write for kids without having anything to do with them. Speak to your own kids, or if you don’t have your own, speak to friends’ kids or kids in your family, nieces, nephews, cousins. Figure out what they like reading, who they are reading, things they want to read. Don’t assume because the trend right now is for paranormal teen novels, it’s something everyone is reading and therefore you need to be writing that.
I was very fortunate last year to be able to spend an afternoon with a group of Year 7’s at a local school here in Beckenham. And you know what that taught me? Don’t underestimate your readers. These kids were rabid readers – they loved books and authors. Even the boys who hung out at the back, afterwards came up to me to ask me if I’ve read any books by Michael Morpugo, what did I think of them, what non-fiction books I read and have I read any books on war? What will I be writing? What should they be reading next? My questions to them was: what do you like reading? Action and adventure was quite high on their list, they liked Alex Rider but didn’t like the Young Bond all that much because they didn’t quite “get” the fact that it was written in an “older time”. They loved the books I showed them, Alexander Gordon Smith’s Furnace books, Gone by Michael Grant and The Dread Pirate Fleur by Sara Starbuck. I read from each of these books for them, explained to them what the authors were doing when they writing it and how important reading was because it’s something you can keep quietly to yourself or you can share it with your friends. But more importantly that reading lets you get out in your head and go on adventures, even if you never have the chance to leave your own house, you get to travel to Bolivia, America, Europe or Russia.
I think this made them realise to some extent that reading wasn’t just something your teachers wanted you to do. My friend Sarah, who is the librarian at this school, was really pleased with my chat to the kids and I was even more chuffed with the feedback I got from these kids. Their enthusiasm was amazing. I was there to share with them some books I’ve loved and wanted to recommend and they didn’t have to buy anything. They could interact with me as Liz, the geek, and probably saw me as this weird hybrid of themselves and an adult and treated me as a mate.
It was a truly wonderful experience and even if I never get to do it again, I’ve taken something away from that day with me. That if you can get a bunch of kids to listen and to talk to you about their passions, their interests, your little book of ideas will be crammed full of characters, thoughts and stories.
Leading on from that, new publishers Nosy Crow did this fantastic list of things kids, especially boys, are still interested in seeing in books in a survey. I had to laugh because, most of these things are things I’ve either written about myself or are things I love reading about. I’m sure that makes me a weird hybrid-boy-girl person. Or maybe I’m the alien?
Here’s the list of things Nosy Crow lists on their website that boys are still interested in:
Here, in descending order of popularity, is the list of things and places that boys who participated said they thought were cool:
- The future
- Big zappers (i.e. weapons)
- Outer space
- Centre of the earth
- Sabre-toothed tigers
- Roman Soldiers
- Deep sea
- Medieval castles
- Ancient Egypt
- Haunted houses
- Giant insects
Happy alien watching!
** More information about the artwork I’ve used in this post can be found here:
Title: Portrait of Alien
Author: Goktug Gurellier
Software: Maya, mental ray, Mudbox, Photoshop