Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wisdom from Nina Hess

Here's an excerpt from a great post she wrote for the Wizards of the Coast blog:

For as long as I’ve been working on children’s books, kids still surprise me with just how creative and sophisticated they can be. They can handle a lot more than adults give them credit for—from tough vocabulary and concepts to tough situations and the emotions that go along with them.

So what makes a children’s book different from a book for adults? It’s a question that's been posed to me many times, especially since I’ve worked at Wizards. What makes our books for young readers different from our books for adults? They’re both fantasy, and kids and fantasy go together, right?

The presumption is often that fantasy books for young readers are different because they feature a child hero and significantly less pages than an adult novel. Rub out any emotionally strong or scary scenes and translate all the hard words into simple grade-level appropriate vocabulary. Easy, right? Well, not exactly.

As E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web argued almost forty years ago:

"Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly. . . . Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn’t know. This emasculates the prose and, I suspect, bores the reader. Children are game for anything. . . . provided [it’s] in a context that absorbs their attention." (Paris Review)

Read the whole thing.

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