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(Ed. note: This was presented on the Yahoo! writers' group, "Word_Mage." For anyone interested in writing for children, it is some wonderful advice and insight into the genre. Thank you, Word Mage, for allowing us to share this with our Star* Times readers.)

Suzanne Lieurance
INTERVIEW
Founder, Director, and Coaching Coordinator
The National Writing for Children Center
http://www.writingf orchildrencenter .com

 


 

 

 

1.    Children seem more mature at a younger age nowadays;

do you find this affects the children’s books of today?

Yes, I think children's books today tackle much deeper

problems than they ever did in the past - everything from

Alzheimer's disease to child abuse and homosexuality

are often subjects for today's books for children and/ or

teens, yet each of these subjects is handled in a way that

is age-appropriate for the intended reader.


2.    The Disney Classics, the Secret Garden and Dr. Seuss

stories still seem very popular as is the Trixie Beldon and

Nancy Drew stories—but are there others that are destined

to become classics for the new generation?

I think the Junie B. Jones books will be around for a long

time. Junie B. is the ultimate kindergarten kid in the

first books and the ultimate elementary school student in

the newest books in the series.

Children will continue to love the Harry Potter books, too,

of course. And, the American Girl series books are

already classics, of sorts. I love the American Girl novels

and mysteries.

3.    What do children’s book editors consider a provocative

beginning for a children’s book. I’m sure age plays a part in

that elementary students differ from a book designed for the

Young adult set — but what kind of "hook" would you suggest?

I think most children's books need to start with a main

character who has an age-appropriate problem that he

(or she) can largely solve, or at least resolve, himself -

without a lot of help from an adult or other well-

meaning adult.

For the very young child, problems like a lost pet, or a

friend who is going to move away, are examples of good

age-appropriate problems to start a story.

4.    Does an interesting setting translate to a foreign

country – or how would you define what constitutes an

interesting setting? I notice you write about several different

countries – did you visit them before you wrote the books?

I think any setting can be interesting as long as the

writer uses a variety of sensory details to make the

reader feel he is being transported to this place.

Many stories for young children take place in

ordinary places like classrooms, homes, and regular

neighborhoods. It's the details that bring these

places to life and make them interesting.

I traveled to parts of Mexico, including the Yucatan

Peninsula, before I wrote the books about Mexico

and the Ancient Maya.  I also lived on Guam when

I was a teenager, and many Filipinos lived there, so

that helped when I was writing the book about the

Philippines.

But with television, movies, videos, and the Internet,

today it isn't essential for a writer to actually travel

to a setting he wishes to use as the background for

a story. It is very important to make sure the writer

does thorough research on any setting he chooses

to use, however.

Here's an example of what I mean. One of my

former students through the Institute of Children's

Literature lived in Trinidad. She had never been to

the United States, but she decided to write a story

that took place in New England during a snowy

winter. In one scene, the main character was

capturing fireflies in his backyard. I had to inform

this student that this wasn't possible because

fireflies don't come out in the snowy wintertime.

They are only seen in warm weather. She didn't

know this because she had never lived, or traveled,

to a snowy climate, and she didn't realize this was

something she needed to check out before she wrote

her story. 

You just need to be extremely careful if you're

writing about someplace you have never visited

yourself. It's so easy to make mistakes.
           
                                                        

 

 

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