Nothing is taken for granted.
Likewise, her perspective on the genre is just as inspiring.
Q: Lesléa, what’s the good news about children’s literature?
A: The good news about children’s literature hasn’t changed, and that is there is still a wildly enthusiastic, excited, and passionate audience out there: the children themselves. Children still love stories, whether they are reading them in a book book, a nook book, or in some other manner. Children like to be entertained, they like to suspend their disbelief, they like to be taken on wild adventures. Children need to be educated, comforted, taught, amused, validated, and challenged, and literature can do all that and more. And the other good news is: as long as there are grandparents, there will always be a market for children’s books!
Q: What can be done to make that “good” better?
A: Children’s literature has come a long way, but it could progress even further by showing more diversity. There are all types of families out there, and this needs to be reflected in the books today’s children are reading. And it would be great to see different types of families appear in books that are not “issue books” per se. So a kid with two moms or two dads or kids from a biracial family would just be a natural part of the text and no one would make a big deal about it. The earlier we teach children to celebrate all types of families, the better!
Lesléa Newman has written 62 books for readers of all ages, including the middle-grade novel, Hachiko Waits, the young adult novel, Jailbait, and the picture books Just Like Mama, Miss Tutu’s Star, and Heather Has Two Mommies. Her latest picture book Donovan’s Big Day focuses on a little boy who has a big job to do on the day that his two mothers wed. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, a young adult book that tells the story of Matthew Shepard’s murder and its aftermath will be published next year by Candlewick Press. Lesléa teaches writing for children and young adults at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in writing program. Learn more at her website, www.lesleakids.com.
Her website includes tales about giving blood and challenging male handball players (but not at the same time, it seems).
Her book topics and approaches are just as diverse. In fact, just like a movie DVD with an alternate ending, she provided a choice of TWO interviews.
Randall, what is right right now in children’s literature?
As a writer of both adult and young adult literature, I am finding it fantastic that these two ‘readerships’ are crossing over. I will think a book is perfect for teens and yet I hear back from adults about it. And visa versa. I finally just end up writing the story that begs to be written and letting my readers (and agent and editors, of course) decide where the book belongs. So the best thing about young adult literature for me is discovering my readers—no matter how old, or young, they might be.
How to make it better?
For me, it’s by not writing ‘down’ to accommodate a certain age and not writing ‘up’ to appeal to adults. The YA writer is in a delicate position sometimes. Some ‘tweens’ are very sophisticated readers but that does not mean they should be encouraged to read sophisticated topics. When parents or teachers ask me about age-appropriateness of my books, I always compare it to a film’s rating.
These are answers as they apply to me, but I wonder if you were hoping for a more generic answer regarding the industry as a whole. If so, then here are my answers:
What is right right now?
What can be done to make it better?
Randall Platt writes fiction for adults and young adults and those who don’t own up to being either. Come see what, why and when on her website or friend her on Facebook. Randall’s latest novel is Hellie Jondoe, a young adult novel set in the west during the flu epidemic of 1918. Coming spring of 2012 will be Liberty Justice Jones, another YA set in Texas when no one had nothing and everyone borrowed it—the Great Depression.
Prairie Lights is a beacon among Iowa bookstores. This Iowa City landmark features impassioned. always-reading staff members. Best of all, the employees you meet there often sport literary backgrounds.
Take children’s bookseller Victoria Walton, a retired children’s elementary school librarian.
1. Victoria, what’s the good news about children’s literature right now?
Children’s nonfiction is increasingly broad in scope and offered in sophisticated, thoughtfully creative design. There is nothing more captivating than the real world and its people throughout time. Children’s nonfiction offers young readers access to ideas to engage every interest.
Picture book illustrators offer varied, bold styles of art that communicate ever as much as language, capturing the imagination and interest of readers through stunning, inspiring, and thought-provoking images. Illustrators creatively communicate complex ideas that brilliantly extend and enhance language.
Authors of the best of children’s fiction appeal to the perspective of children with imaginative stories that celebrate childhood through ingenious, inquisitive characters and their escapades.
2. From your perspective, what can be done to make that “good” even better?
Publishers should be expending increased effort to attract diverse authors and illustrators to better represent a global children’s view in all areas of children’s literature. Editing should be increasingly critical to avoid mediocrity in children’s books and to offer fresh, imaginative ideas that engage ingenious, inquisitive readers.
Prairie Lights Bookstore has been in Iowa City since 1978. Visit them online at www.prairielights.com
Candice, what’s the good news about children’s literature right now?
First, I don’t think children’s books will “go away.” Too many people care too much about children’s literature, from dedicated editors, to courageous small presses, to loyal indie bookstores, and legions of parents who buy books and take their children to libraries. Second, while things are changing in the field (sometimes at a dizzying rate), change indicates energy. I am thrilled to see genres crossing over—picture books with novels, novels crossing over into picture books, nonfiction crossing over everywhere, it seems. These are exciting times to experiment with images, whether drawn or written.
From your perspective, what can be done to make the “good” even better?
People are hungry for story. Adults, children, everyone. We browse the Net, surf channels, swoosh across touchpad media screens, and still aren’t satisfied. We need books and we need to talk, not text or IM or e-mail or even blather on cellphones. We all need to talk to each other, face to face. Sit in the living room and tell stories to each other. Children need to sit on the front porch and listen to their parents and grandparents tell about the “olden” days. Neighbors need to get together and catch up. And when everyone is temporarily all talked out, they should go read. The next day, do it all over again with a different bunch of stories. Or the same ones. Or talk about what we read. Just so we connect.
Candice Ransom is the author of more than one hundred children’s books—picture books, chapter books, easy readers, mid-grade novels, biographies, nonfiction, and board books—including the Time Spies series, Pony Island, and Seeing Sky-Blue Pink. She teaches writing for children at Hollins University’s summer MA/MFA program. She and her husband live in Fredericksburg, Virginia, “America’s Most Historic City.”