A recent post on a writing group on Facebook of which I am a member read:
“As an adult writer what draws some to become authors of YA/children’s books? Why not focus on mature themes, are they trying to relive their past or something??”
Well, let’s break it down…
First, does writing KidLit (whether that be picture books, middle grade, or young adult) necessarily mean we authors are not “focusing on mature themes?” I say NO! A loud NO! A resounding, shout it from the rooftops NO!
Because, I’ve read some very excellent KidLit that does exactly that. We KidLit authors are NOT avoiding mature themes, we are making those themes understandable and relatable to a child’s mind. THAT’S HUGE!
Did you know that adults who read Harry Potter as children are more likely to show empathy for others? Want to guess why? It’s because Harry Potter (a decidedly KidLit series) deals in very mature themes. Themes like death, justice, love… and kids who read that are going to be thinking adults. And it’s not just Middle Grade and YA that does that. Have you read a Pete the Cat book recently? I love Pete the Cat, and I love reading him with my son. Why? Because Pete the Cat is not only adorable and funny, but he also teaches lessons in mindfulness and bullying. Big topics for a four year old to grasp!
Second, are we trying to relive our past or something?
HA HA HA HA!!!
I’m a teacher, so trust me, I hear this joke ALL THE TIME! I’m a middle school teacher because I just LOVED middle school so much, I had to go back!
I hated middle school. I felt awkward, and I didn’t have any friends, and I spent a good portion of my seventh grade wondering if the reason I wasn’t getting my period like everyone else was because God was punishing me. Seriously!
Middle school is THE WORST!
But, I love teaching it, and here’s why. Teenagers and preteens are AWESOME. They’re like this perfect mixture of growing and exploring child and rational thinking adult. It’s the perfect age! They still have this childlike open-mindedness so you can discuss big topics with them and they’re willing to think and listen (unlike some adults who just say they disagree and walk away, ugh), but they’re still old enough that they’ve developed some critical thinking skills, so they don’t devolve into tantrums (usually) when you disagree with them.
I teach teens and preteens because I want to have these big conversations with kids while their minds are growing, while they’re still learning about the world. I want to discuss with them mature topics so they can become empathetic, thinking adults!
And guess what? I read and write YA fiction for the same reason! YA fiction deals with some huge topics. 13 Reasons Why dealt with depression, and suicide, and rape, and bullying, and teens read it, then BAM, they were forced to think about depression, and suicide, and rape, and bullying. That’s a reflection moment for them. That’s big! That’s so important!
It takes a lot of talent to be able to initiate these conversations with teens, because teens don’t want to talk about the BIG issues with adults. They think adults don’t understand. I write what I write because I want teens to see that we adults DO understand.
No, I’m not trying to relive the worst years of my life! I’m trying to make living those years EASIER for the kids who are still there. I’m trying to open them up to adult ideas and to help them navigate the world around them, and somehow, hopefully, come out the other side a better person.
It’s insulting to discount KidLit authors as “less than.” We work just as hard to create lovable characters and interesting plots. I (and every other KidLit writer I’ve met) am VERY passionate about what we do. Yes, we write for children, but we also write for the adults those children will someday become.