Friday, June 15, 2007

What Kids Like to Read

Irene Watson raised an interesting point when she said there is something wrong with the way we produce kids' books and then wonder why kids don't read them. Adults write for kids books. Adults review kids books. Adults decide what books kids should read. Times have changed drastically since we were kids, even if it was not so long ago. Are we the best judges of what interests today's youth? No. We've got to let the kids tell us what we want if we expect them to read what we write. Irene, of Reader Views, ( has started having kids review books for kids. She is finding that they are mostly interested in fantasy and science fiction.

I maintain that young girls, and some boys still love horse stories, as well. I hear from a lot of fans who've read Miranda and Starlight and the rest of the books of that series. These books are still selling well, and I hope to get them into the hands of more kids who love reading about horses by combining the series in a six-book set and selling them for a lower price than the sum of each book sold individually.

Of course we are still competing with ipods and video games, so it's up to us to give kids really good books on subjects that interest them, and make them readily available. Any more suggestions on how to do that?


JanY said...

I'm Jan Young, author of middle grade novel, "The Orange Slipknot," soon to be published by Raven Publishing. In the past couple years I have been working as a Remediation Tutor as well as substitute teacher, in grades K-6. I would like to respond to several statements by Janet and Irene.

Irene said:
"When the kids started reading the book, majority of them thought the book was "stupid." The reviewer herself thought the book was great. Other reviewers gave the book wonderful reviews too."

I think using kids' own reviews is a great idea. However, I think we need a balance of both adults' and kids' input. I know my own kids thought that some of the books I wanted them to read were stupid, but not all. They disliked anything that smacked of "preachy." Even though they were Christians, they would not read "Christian" novels. If a story has a lesson, it needs to be low-key, subtly woven into a great story and not promoted as a "helpful" book.

But we must accept what kids "love" with a grain of salt. Some of the books kids love are definitely stupid by adult standards--stories majoring in underwear, smart-aleck and disrespectful attitudes and language, and blatantly bad grammar in the name of humor, to name some of my own biases. I wonder what publishers, teachers and librarians are thinking by making such books available, just because kids like them.

Irene said:
" do you get kids to read book? Simple. Write books they want to read. I took a poll as well as personally interviewed kids. Most of them want to read fantasy/SciFi related books. They are adamant they don't want books the are "self-help" or anything too close to reality. The kids I talked to are ages 12 to 16."

Don't paint with too broad a brush. I have heard this also, but my own research with the 8-13 readers did not back it up. You are talking 12-16. The 8-13 group is quite large, and my experience with them, my reading on the subject, and my questioning of teachers and librarians shows a more eclectic range of interest. I listen to many 4th graders read from their library books, and have seen little that could be described as SciFi--maybe the "Goosebumps" series. The most popular fantasy is the "Magic Treehouse" series, a time-travel adventure which isn't exactly far out. I haven't seen as much "Harry Potter" as I would have thought. I see many books about dogs, horses, other animals, the old West, and just kids-in-school adventures.

Janet said:
" …true fiction, an effective tool for children to understand and express themselves and for adults to open communication with a child."

"My question is, what can we as authors do to entice kids to read. We compete in an age of electronics."

I think your idea of true fiction is great, but don't think it should be promoted as such on book jackets. Promote it as a great story that kids will love, a main character that kids will be able to relate to. Bait the hook by giving them a hint of the problem this main character faces, then entice them to want to find out how he/she will solve it.

Because we are living in an electronic age and must compete with activities that appeal to the senses, we must write in such a way that we appeal to all the senses. Let the readers hear, see, feel, smell and taste what the main character is experiencing, so that they actually feel they are THERE, that they are living with the main character is living. Narration and descriptive passages are boring to kids. Action, dialogue, and the character's own thoughts must carry the story.

Janet Muirhead Hill said...

Hi Jan,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree that a balance of adult and kids reviews is ideal for a book. I have often quoted both on book covers and promotional material. I do think it's important to listen to kids when one is writing for them. In the past, I have had families read my manuscripts in their traditional just-before-bed-time story hour. If a story doesn't catch the kids' interest right away, they'll respond, much like Simon on American Idol, "Borrrring!" With the Miranda and Starlight books, they said instead, "Don't stop! Read one more chapter, pleeeease," and were eager to remind their parents to read the next night.

As you said, Jan, kids don't like to be preached to. They get enough of that from parents, school, and church. But when characters they relate to, like your Ben in the Orange Slipknot, and Miranda in the Starlight series get themselves in hot water by their impulsive actions, kids are happy to experience "someone else" taking the heat. When the kids' fiction author does her job, the reader learns vicariously while engrossed in the escapades of his or her favorite characters.

You said, "I think your idea of true fiction is great, but don't think it should be promoted as such on book jackets. Promote it as a great story that kids will love, a main character that kids will be able to relate to."
I completely agree. I never put the words "true fiction," on the cover of a book. When I have discussed "true fiction" in school visits, I define it as fiction with characters who have problems and emotions similar to our own. I explain that even fantasy or scifi can qualify as true fiction if it expresses true-to-life emotions, remains true to the author's convictions, true to the characters' traits and personalities, and doesn't "cheat"—in other words, it stays true to the premises you've set up and to the natural consequences of the characters' thoughts and actions.