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.
In 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.
“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.