Whenever I explain to people what I’m pursing a masters in or what genre I edit, I inevitably get the question, “Why? Why do you do kids’ books when you could be working on real ones?” Well, since I know they don’t think I’m producing imaginary books, I assume they want to know why I prefer children’s books over adult.

I’d like to start by saying that I like adult literature. There are plenty of great adult authors like Jasper Fforde or Agatha Christie. I can appreciate classics like Jane Austen or Chaucer. I’ll read Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur in the original Middle English. For fun. But whenever I go into a bookstore it’s not the adult section I head for. It’s the kids.

So that leads us back to the original question: Why do I prefer kid’s books? For me it’s simple. Kids books move. They flow. They stay on track and don’t lose focus. That doesn’t mean they can’t have subplots or consist of complex narratives. Diana Wynne Jones writes some of the most complicated books in any type of fiction — adult or child. Archer’s Goon is a structuralist’s dream while Fire & Hemlock is thematically masterful. The difference though is that children’s books have tight writing. The author does not deviate onto a barely relevant tangent. Despite the trend toward longer books, children’s authors are still limited to shorter word counts than adult authors. There is a greater incentive in a children’s book to make every word matter.

And children’s books can be a huge challenge. It’s hard to make a 2000 word picture book have the same emotional impact on its reader as a much longer work like War and Peace. But the best picture books do impact their readers and cause emotional reactions. No one can truly read all of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day without feeling even the tiniest bit sorry for Alexander. Then there are Easy Readers, which are the hardest books for any age to write. If you ever feel the need to frustrate yourself beyond belief, take a first grade word list and try to write a compelling 800 word story with action and character growth. The people that can do this are true geniuses. And those of us editing them can be a bit of a miracle worker too, if I do say so myself.

Children’s books are no longer the red-headed stepchildren of literature. Compelling academic research has been done on the genre bringing it into the mainstream tenure-tracked disciplines. And despite your personal views on Harry Potter, his books spent so much time at the top of the NYT Bestsellers list that the adult works couldn’t even compete.

So, the next time an adult author or editor wants to know when I’m going to start working on “real” books, I won’t feel slighted. I’ll condescendingly ask, “When are you going to?”

As always, leave your thoughts and comments on kiddie lit in the comments section. Use the link below.

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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