28 Jan Guest post from DGA agent, Kirsty McLachlan
The launch of the Golden Egg Academy in Bath last weekend was full of cake, coffee, brilliant talks and the most wonderful fizzing kind of energy. My kind of event. As I listened to the speakers, it struck me how alike the very best children’s books (and I’m including YA books here) are to children.
They are brave and bold. They are fearless. Children’s books are continually pushing the boundaries with the writing, the content and characters’ relationships. They don’t sit still. Like children, they are on the move, trends exist but the very best books create trends and ‘make it new’. They have no inhibitions.
They are full of energy – they demand action and immediate satisfaction. Several times over the past few years, I’ve asked an author to take out the first chapter or the prologue and start instead with the second chapter. A common mistake is to introduce every detail or character in the first chapter and then take the story forward in the second chapter. Books must leap into action with that careless abandonment children have for new adventures.
They are full of questions. Children are curious by nature, they don’t have all the answers but they do have lots of questions. This means they are continually learning. Children’s books must reflect this thirst for knowledge – ask questions of the content, the characters and the structure.
They create worlds – and are completely absorbed in them. The other day I caught my son singing to himself in an imaginary spaceship destined for the bottom of the sea – don’t ask! But the point is, he had created a world, and was fully sunk in that world. Great children’s books do that, they have that capacity to form fully fleshed out worlds – readers willingly suspend their disbelief and exist in those worlds and escape into worlds. Books must be creative and imaginative.
They are challenging and must defy expectations. Children always defy our expectations. They are untouchable creatures for that. Children’s books must in the same way reach beyond what is expected. Don’t take second best; go beyond what has happened before. And never produce a shadow-copy of something that has already been written. Children’s books should surprise us, as children do on a daily basis.
They communicate directly. If children have a point, they will tell you that point and no use over-elaborate wording to tell it. Strip back your writing, so the extra padding – which may be fine for adult books – is gone. If children are scared, they will tell you or happy to a point of craziness, again, they will tell you.
Children read books for many reasons but the very best books are those that capture the qualities the readers themselves have. They become touchstones for children. A child that reads is not alone; they are with a best friend.