By Nancy Ellen Hird
In her book Writing Irresistible Kidlit (Writer’s Digest Books, 2012), industry insider and former agent Mary Kole writes that kids read differently than adults. She writes they read:
• Communally (Friends pass books to each other.)
• Socially (Kids talk about books to each other and it is important to be reading what your friends are reading.)
• For keeps (Kids want to bond, and do bond, with the characters.)
If you’ve been around book-loving kids or you remember reading yourself as a kid, you know she’s on the mark.
Yet, we adults often act as if the reading kids do extracurricularly is merely a pleasurable pastime or a skill-building activity for more serious pursuits. Clearly, from what Kole says and what we really know, it is not. What kids read pervades and impacts big chunks of their lives. Because of the way they read, they are immersed in and embrace a world and a worldview. And take another look at the list above. That world and worldview are largely devoid of parental input and guidance.
What does this mean for us as writers? I think it means that those of us who write for children, for teens and even those who write for adults (books written for adults are being aggressively marketed to teens) have a huge-I will say this again-a huge responsibility. We are called by God to be warriors on the battlefield for the minds, hearts and souls of kids.
As such we need to do more than write skillfully. We need to write prayerfully and thoughtfully. We need to serve the kids and not ourselves. We need to wait on and hear from God about what is good and what is appropriate for the kids. Yes, we need to “speak the truth,” but we need to do it with wisdom and discretion. God wants to use our stories to build the next generation’s faith in Him, not in themselves and not in the values of this world. He wants us to help kids know that He is real, that He loves them and that He is active in their world.
This may mean that we will put aside, if He asks us, our need to tell a story that intrigues us and instead tell His story and in the way that He shows us how to tell it. And it means we will resist the temptation to follow the siren calls of the popular market. We will shun what the popular market considers relevant and write what God knows to be relevant.
It sounds like we have a lot of praying ahead.
I Get a Clue, a mystery for girls, 10-13, is Nancy Ellen Hird’s latest book. For several years she reviewed children’s and teen literature for Focus on the Family. In 2011 she started the blog, Books for Christian Kids. She and her team recommend books that will uplift kids.
Thank you for this reminder. I can’t wait to check out your book for my oldest daughter. She loves to read mystery books.
Writing is not for the weak or the irresponsible, whether the target audience is kids, teens, or full-grown adults.
We will give an account of every word, spoken or written, that we authored. I really like that you brought up this topic. The pressure to write what sells regardless of its implications should not overpower a responsible writer.
Thanks, Gabrielle. I hope she likes it. Kids have been telling me they like it. One young reader even told me rather frankly “I don’t read mysteries, but I liked this one.”
Thanks, Katya. I’m glad you liked it that I brought the topic up. A few years ago my teaching partner and I took an informal survey of friends and writers. We asked, “Do you remember a favorite book from your childhood and what do you remember?” People did. They easily remembered a story and the life lessons in that story. Stories impact us and more than we realize.