Since Every Day After releases today, the past several days have been all about me, me, and me. And, frankly, I can’t take “me” any more. Don’t get me wrong. It has been a lovely experience over the past weeks leading up to release. I’ve had kind things said to me, and I have been humbled by the warmth and generosity poured upon me in heaps by so many. So today, here on my blog, I want to turn attention away from me and pay it forward.
I’ve been asked the following a number of times over recent weeks: “Are there any downfalls to writing middle grade?”
I could think of no downfalls other than the obvious fact that writing for kids is typically undervalued by the adult world of readers. Kidlit authors have a difficult time being perceived as “real” authors. Outside of teachers and librarians and fellow kidlit authors and publishers, no one seems to “get it.”
This question got me to thinking—thinking about writing for kids, and how, in general, the younger a book’s target audience, the less respect it receives. This is not fair. And it is certainly not right.
When I first began writing, I assumed I would write picture books. Not because I thought them a more valuable genre than novels. Oh, no. Because I erroneously assumed they’d be easier to write. Boy, did I get an education. It was easier for me to produce a full-length novel than it was to try and squeeze an entire plot arc and full characterization into a book containing less than 500 words. I mean, seriously, who are these ultra-talented authors capable of accomplishing this? They astound me.
And let’s not forget illustrators. They take the author's words and use them as a catalyst for creating artwork full of life and personality and a story all its own. The illustrator’s work compliments and informs the author’s, creating humor, subtext, and beauty. No easy feat. Illustrators astound me, too.
Aside from being a true art form, picture books hold immense value for young readers. Picture books introduce children to complex vocabulary and sentence structure—often more complex than that of early chapter books and easy readers. They introduce kids to story sense and plot. Picture books contain age-appropriate themes that encourage kids to think about their actions and feelings. This is especially wonderful, because as we all know, most kids read picture books with their parents, and who better for kids to discuss their feelings with?
Picture books introduce kids to art and inspire them to examine the meaning behind it. The illustrations in a picture book aid children in deciphering the meaning of more difficult words and complex sentences. They allow kids to be intellectually challenged without feeling overwhelmed.
Perhaps most importantly of all, picture books make reading fun. And there is no better way to create a life-long reader than to make reading an activity a child looks forward to.
The bookshelves in my own home are filled with picture books. Some are from my own childhood; many more I purchased for my sons. I cannot part with any of them. They are beautiful and special, and each one holds a memory.
My boys are 11 and 9. I still catch them from time to time pulling a picture book off the shelf. You never outgrow picture books. They are treasures in the truest sense, and that deserves acknowledgment and respect.
In this spirit, I am going to use my Release Day spotlight to shout: long live picture books! Their creators are my heroes.
My Top Five Favorite Picture Books
1. Where the Wild Things Are
2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
4. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie
5. The Snowy Day