Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kids are Complicated

"You cannot write for children. They're much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them."
~ Maurice Sendak




This is an important key to our success as children's authors. Kids and their interests are changing more rapidly than ever before, especially in today's technological world. Graphic novels are one example of this. My video game-hungry students love them - with or without color. Although, I must admit that seeing Brutus and Antony as ninjas in the graphic novel version of Julius Caesar was a bit disconcerting to me.

If we are to realize our dreams, it is critical that we remain aware of the changing rate of maturity levels, the new and different needs, and the broadening interests of today's youth. Are some things timeless? Of course. But if kids and their interests weren't changing, we would never have seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - and it would never have been a smashing success!

How do you stay current with today's rapidly changing youth?

38 comments:

Jody Hedlund said...

Fortunately, those of us with our own kids are right on the frontlines! I find myself constantly having to sort through the myriad of changing trends, especially in books and entertainment to find out what works for our family values.

L. T. Host said...

How do I stay current with the youth of today?

I write adult fiction. Haha.

No, but really-- I still feel like a kid myself-- I'm in my mid-twenties-- and I know there are some things about the generation/s already tailing behind me that I just don't get, like Zhu Zhu Pets (what the heck is up with those?) so I admit that I'm not the best person to write YA or MG. I know the issues are the same, but I have more fun with adult fiction (and by the way, I don't mean XXX fiction, just grown-up fiction). My themes and characters are a little too mature for YA. But I heartily admire those who do write YA/ MG/ etc., because it's not something I dare try myself!

Carolyn V. said...

Ninjas? Serious? Okay Shannon, I do find that a little bit cool. Of course I'd be really confused when it came to history class. =) I think the best way to stay ahead is to just keep reading and writing what is in your heart. I think people connect with feeling. =)

Heather said...

I love that quote by Maurice, it's so true! It's tough staying up with kids because their world is constantly changing. Aside from spending time with them and reading what they're reading, I kind of fly by the seat of my pants!

Mary McDonald said...

How do I stay current? I watch my nine year old daughter. lol. She's got some surprising tastes. For instance, while she loves the usual Disney stuff like Hannah Montana, she also loves Friday Night Lights, and has recently been watching The Office. That last one was a shocker for me. lol.

I haven't been able to get her to read as much as I'd like, but I'm sure something will come along to catch her interest. Maybe it'll be your book.

Watery Tart said...

I don't write kid's stuff, but I have a couple, and I think ONE great thing to remember is that in addition to interests changing, they are widely varied. I think there is infinite possibility on topics. My son has loved Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Alex Rider, Pendragon, cirque de Freak... I think in the gamot, the only common thread is 'smart adventure'. The books he DOESN'T like tend to be 'cute'. Can be all the same topics, but if they are too precious, I think he feels they aren't 'boy stuff' (he also wants a male lead, to which mom says 'hmph' but i can't do anything about it) WRITE THE BOOK, THEY WILL READ!

Bane of Anubis said...

Good question -- I think there are immutable traits to kids (and people in general), and, since I do not have any children, I try to write more toward the basic nature than the current trending.

Aubrie said...

Teens are so much more mature now than I was when I was their age. I still enjoyed reading about unicorns. Oh well.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Kids are super smart! I'm in awe of YA writers- that's a tough voice to capture!

Mary Aalgaard said...

I have four of those changlings living right here, and 16 more that come for piano lessons. Then there are the neighbor boys, and the ones I love to encourage on their writing journey at school. Bring'em on!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Anyone who thinks writing for children is easy has it all backwards. Anyone who has tried knows better. This is a great quote, and written sparsely but with great meaning, as only a children's writer can.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I guess I stay current by reading a lot. But it also helps that I'm surrounded by teens and kids at the dance studio where I take classes. I get all kinds of insider information there. ;)

DL Hammons said...

I'm soooo glad I write Mystery's!!

Emily Ann Benedict said...

It's true, tastes are constantly changing. One thing I've noticed is a lot of movies and shows (especially comedies) that would be traditionally for children only have a lot of humor adults can connect with.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I have teenage siblings, so they keep me really current. It's amazing how things change, but how many of them actually stay the same.

PJ Hoover said...

Great question, Shannon! I have kids of my own and they help, but I realize as they get older I need to become even more hip. I'm talking I need to start listening to some new music and figure out which pop stars are the bomb :)

Faith Pray said...

I love the quote! Lately I've been immersed in kids', middle grade and ya fiction. So helpful to read what is out there, and find what's important to kids.

T. Anne said...

I just brought my son back from the library. It was tuff finding one book that interested him. I think around fourteen we start to see a serious gap in the boy book world.

Cheree said...

I love reading. But, I also pay attention to my sister and her friends, you can learn a lot from observation.

Mary_not_Martha said...

Well, you already mentioned those dreaded/much loved graphic novels. I buy those for the boys, but our most recent discovery is graphic novels on the PSP!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great post. I think having/knowing kids helps keep you up to speed with what is going on. I stay current by reading and having younger cousins.
For myself writing YA the best tip I've read is not to write to trends. Before you know it the trend is over and the kids have moved on to the next thing. I remember how fickle I was as a teen. Shame I still am in my twenties. lol.

Cleverly Inked said...

LMao @ Ninja. I'm still trying to get my 2 yr old to hold still for me to show him a book ;)

Jemi Fraser said...

I just ordered another 15 historical graphic novels for my class. The kids love them.

I think teaching and having my own kids helps keep me in the loop. At least I hope it does :)

sarahjayne smythe said...

Hee! I live with them. :) I teach high school.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I live with three of them. ;)

Jenn Johansson said...

I have adult readers and teen readers. The feedback I get from each is so drastically different, I don't know what I'd do without either. :)

Susan Quinn said...

Seriously so hard to keep up with the world, much less the kids! Which is why I write for the kids I own - and their slightly older friends! And my adult friends that like to read teenlit! :)

Jen said...

I'm lucky enough to still be up to date on what teens like because I myself still watch a lot of those shows, as far as the younger one's I have a few nephews who help me keep up with the trends!

Jennie Englund said...

I'm dripping with kids!

They're in my house and at my
work--everywhere I go!

It's a great opportunity to see the priorities, to hear the language.

Tracy said...

I read what my kids read, and I actually enjoy it. Mostly. I haven't been able to get into those Warrior books, and a couple of my kids just love them. I think that anyone who really engages children can keep on top of things.

Theresa Milstein said...

Good points and good question.

I live with two of them and sub a whole city full of them, so I think it gives me a good handle. At their hearts, children are the same as when we were children. We just have to layer it with the technology changes.

Sandy Shin said...

That's a great quote!

As an adult, it's almost impossible to fully understand children and teenagers; one way of approaching closer to that is to observe their interactions with each other. Reading lots of children's books is another way I personally try to do. :)

Lisa and Laura said...

Is it weird if I say we're still trying to be part of the youth? Not intentionally...it just sort of happens. We watch shows targeted toward teens, we follow teen celebs. Sometimes I still think I'm 15. Sad, but true.

SAMUEL PARK said...

I have a 4-year old niece, and man, she teaches me lessons every day about a child's aesthetic expectations--if you're not flowing with her, she's on to something else--kids are so incredibly in-the-moment; I think our work has to be, too. (I don't write children's fiction--it's too hard--it's like writing haikus or poetry.) Thanks for the post!

Myrna Foster said...

Things that are disconcerting to us aren't disconcerting to them.

I stay current through my own kids and their friends, by volunteering at school and as a coach, and by taking reading recommendations from my nieces and nephews.

You have the best quotes!

Talli Roland said...

Love the quote - so true! I tried to write for kids and it is incredibly difficult. I'm in awe of anyone who can do it well!

Patti said...

Even when you think you have a handle on it, it turns out they've moved on. It's a constant game of catch up.

Book Dilettante said...

Now I'm convinced I have to read pride and Prejudice and Zombies! Thanks for visiting from Jemi's blog! I'm now following you as well!

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