Why I Write Books for Children by Claire Legrand
It’s a question I’ve been asked frequently, a question many authors of books for children encounter in regular conversation:
“Do you think you’ll ever write books for adults?”
Notice how I emphasized the word “adults” in the above sentence, much how people emphasize the word when asking the question. They utter “adults” with great heft behind it, as if reminding me: “Hey, you could be writing for grown-ups, you know. You haven’t forgotten that, right? You’re not crazy or anything, are you?”
Typically, this question is laced with incredulity, skepticism, and varying levels of intellectual disdain. I’ve been asked it by everyone from friends and family members to complete strangers. But no matter how many times I’ve been asked it, no matter how many times I’ve tiredly answered it, this question always makes me sad. First, because it implies that adults cannot—or should not—enjoy children’s literature. Second, because it implies that there is something lesser about writing children’s literature, and about children’s literature in general.
Yes, I might write adult books someday; I have ideas for such stories and simply haven’t had the time or motivation to focus on them yet. But if I didn’t ever write adult literature, I would still be perfectly happy. Why wouldn’t I be? I would still be writing books for children, that’s why—and these stories are those read, loved, and learned from by our world’s future leaders, teachers, thinkers, artists, athletes, physicians, musicians, engineers, parents.
What could be a worthier thing, a more beautiful thing, than shaping the minds and hearts and lives of those children?
Besides that point, which verges on the abstract, there is the inarguable fact that the world of children’s literature is one of intellectual, emotional, and imaginative riches. It staggers me that there are those who think otherwise.
Yes, there are books out there in the world of children’s literature—and in the world of adult literature as well, I must point out—that may be more or less intellectually challenging than others. Books that exist for entertainment more than for scholarly enlightenment. But I struggle to understand why this is a bad thing. All books teach children how to read; all books stimulate a child’s mind in a way that helps them become better communicators, better thinkers, better interpreters of context and syntax.
I hesitate to assign more value to one book over the other, because any book out there—any book—could be the one discovered by a reluctant reader, and devoured and loved. That book could pave the way for that reluctant reader to a wider world of literature. That book could shape the reader’s mind in new, stimulating ways. That book—and that reader—could change the world.
And for those still not convinced, what about this?
What about the complex discussions of theology, faith, religion, and metaphysics in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials?
The deft handling of challenging topics like time travel, financial troubles, and bullying in Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me?
The unique narrative structure of that book, and of Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan—structures that inspire young readers to experiment with their own writing, their own thinking?
The tender discussion of changing friendships and loneliness in Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs? And the classic The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett?
The importance of following your dreams and discovering who you are—and not being ashamed of it—in Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever?
The depictions of multifaceted, fallible, resilient heroines in books by Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, Stephanie Burgis, and Shannon Hale?
The sheer imaginative power of such powerhouse fantasies as the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, stories by Cornelia Funke and Catherine Fisher and Jonathan Stroud and Holly Black and Catherynne Valente?
The beauty of language in Stefan Bachmann’s The Peculiar and Erin Bow’s Plain Kate?
The exploration of grief and loss in Katherine Catmull’s Summer and Bird, Lauren Oliver’s Liesl & Po, Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting By 7s, and my own book, The Year of Shadows?
These are ideas not worth exploring? These are stories deserving of disdain? These are authors who need to be gently prodded, for their own sakes, back into the realm of the “respectable” and adult?
I think not.
I also think that the next time someone asks me if I’ll ever write books for adults, instead of smiling politely and saying something like, “Sure, someday,” and then changing the subject, I’ll answer with this:
“Maybe I will. I love all kinds of books—adult and children’s literature, realistic and fantastical, historical and contemporary, books that challenge me and books that let me sit back and escape. But the books that are the most special to me, both as a reader and a writer—the books that make me laugh the most and cry the hardest, the stories that make me think and give me the most hope, the characters I can’t forget, the ideas that stand a chance of making the biggest difference in the world—happen to be written for children. I will therefore continue writing them, and reading them, and be proud to do so.”
Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a writer, Ms. Legrand can often be found typing with purpose at her keyboard, losing herself in the stacks at her local library, or embarking upon spontaneous adventures to lands unknown. Her first novel is THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, a New York Public Library Best Book for Children in 2012. Her second novel, THE YEAR OF SHADOWS, released August 27, 2013, with her third novel, WINTERSPELL, to follow in fall 2014. She is one of the four authors behind THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, an anthology of dark middle grade fiction due out in July 2014 from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins. Claire lives in New Jersey with a dragon and two cats. Visit her at claire-legrand.com and at enterthecabinet.com.