word craft


The Best Readers

Every once in a while, an adult (nev­er a child) asks me why I both­er to write for young peo­ple. The ques­tion is usu­al­ly asked with the impli­ca­tion that it must be a waste of time to write for mere kids. I was asked just that the oth­er day.

True Confessions of Charlotte DoyleIn fact, I believe chil­dren are the best read­ers with their deep engage­ment and excite­ment and, yes, their pas­sion­ate love of what they read—when they like your work. To be sure they can turn down a book they don’t like, and I applaud them for that as well. One of my favorite respons­es to a book of mine, The True Con­fes­sions of Char­lotte Doyle, went like this: “Your book was bor­ing at first but by page two it got real­ly good.” 

But it’s not men­tioned enough that for young read­ers it is often a par­ent, a librar­i­an, or a teacher who opens the bot­tom­less box of read­ing joy for the young. 

Ragweed & PoppyRecent­ly, I received a let­ter from a teacher who, she wrote, has been read­ing Rag­weed and Pop­py to her sec­ond graders for fif­teen years. Now she writes: 

“This year a won­der­ful thing hap­pened as I was very close to the end of Rag­weed. One of my sec­ond-grade stu­dents came to school extreme­ly excit­ed to show me the book she found at the library. It was Rag­weed & Pop­py.  I bought the book that same night and read it. I loved every minute of it and knew my stu­dents would feel the same way. So, this year, for the first time, I am read­ing Rag­weed & Pop­py to my class and it is such a joy. The oth­er day as I was read­ing about the first inter­ac­tion that Rag­weed has with Lotar, my entire class was crack­ing up. I wished that you could hear them. I want­ed so bad­ly for you to be able to see and hear these chil­dren falling in love with a new char­ac­ter and soak­ing up every word that you have written.” 

Unlike adult read­ers who read adult books, I don’t think young read­ers are very inter­est­ed in the writer. Oh, yes, when giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty, they ask ques­tions: “Do you have chil­dren?” “Do you have pets?” “How long does it take you to write a book?” “How old are you?” 

What they tru­ly engage with are the sto­ries and char­ac­ters, and they do so com­plete­ly and with great joy. 

There is a sto­ry about Mau­rice Sendak I’ve always liked: A par­ent wrote to him that her son tru­ly loved one of his pic­ture books. In response, Sendak drew a pic­ture and sent it to him. The par­ent wrote back that her child so loved his pic­ture that he ate it. Quite right. 

2 thoughts on “The Best Readers”

  1. I beg to dif­fer that chil­dren r not much inter­est­ed in the authors! For 30 years as s as pub­lic school librar­i­an I brought authors & illus­tra­tors to my schools to meet stu­dents. Once that author or illus­tra­tor had vis­it­ed their books were nev­er on the shelves & lit­er­al­ly the kids would fight over who got one of those books next. I saw over & over what an impact those authors & illus­tra­tors made on those kids—making school memories!

  2. I may be in the minor­i­ty, but as a child (and as an adult) I wanted–badly–to know about the author. I want­ed to know when they were born, if they had kids, where they lived, and any­thing else that popped to mind. When pub­lish­ers began to include bios at the end of the book or on the back cov­er, I was over the moon excit­ed to have those lit­tle blurbs of info.


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