Why I Write for Children and Young Adults


In the last few weeks I have done something I only dreamed about doing while in undergrad. It’s something I used to do every summer vacation as a girl. It’s something I did every school year, too, something that—during those eight hours—I was not supposed to do. I’ve talked about it before because it’s just as much a part of my life as is eating, breathing, sleeping.

You guessed it: I have been reading. I read myriad books in college, but professors chose them for me and I tried to squeeze a me-book in there most of the time but it took me ages to finish my me-book with all those other books begging for my attention. But in this lull-time between achieving settledness in our new home and flying to Vermont for my first VCFA residency in July, I have done nothing but spend time with my husband, play with my dog, and READ. Here are the books I’ve finished since I completed The Grapes of Wrath on May 14:

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (A VCFA advisor)

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen

The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman

Sounder by William H. Armstrong


It’s easy to see a connection between all these books, most of which I loved and some of which I didn’t (but I liked all of them to a degree): they are all children’s, or young adult, books. And the writing and the stories found within them match the quality of the contemporary adult books I have read. People often think that writing for children and young adults is only something writers do before writing real books—books for older people.

That is not the case at all, and authors of children’s and YA books will tell you that faster than you can ask them when they plan to move on to adult book writing. There are writers who do both, but no writer of children’s books thinks of herself as preparing to write an adult book by writing what she loves to write until she’s ‘good enough’ for adult books.

I have great respect for writers of good adult and good children’s/YA books, and I think some people are better suited to write for one audience over the other, but in my lifetime I’ve received patronizing looks when I am either reading a children’s or YA book or talking about writing one.

I read children’s books more than adult books because children’s books first grabbed my hands and whisked me into other characters’ minds and lives and troubles. Those books, like the books I listed above—several of which I read as a kid and re-read now—deepened my love of reading and of life. I write for children because I want to give them that same porthole to wonder that I have clung to through moments of anguish and moments of joy and all the moments in between.

Children’s, and YA books to a lesser but still tangible extent, let the world hope. No matter what happens in these stories, hope ultimately clutches the reader in its soft and earnest arms, and 21-year-old optimist that I am, I love this. And I know there are hundreds, thousands like me out there. They’re the ones who are writing children’s books. They’re 20, 35, 48, 67, 80, maybe even 98. And though life has flung death and illness and sorrow into their faces, they hope.

I read and write children’s books because I refuse to grow up all the way if growing up means believing life is monotonous, difficult, and hamster-wheely. And if I ever publish a book, I will hope there are adult readers out there who refuse to grow up all the way, too. I hope you will hand that book of mine to your daughter, your son, your niece, your nephew, your grandchild, and then I hope you keep one. I hope you tuck yourself into one of those Pinterest reading nooks everyone wishes they had, or at least into a comfy sofa or a lawn chair by a creek or a lake or in your yard, and read that children’s or young adult book. You’re never too old for it.



Above: this is the look you get if you interrupt me while I’m reading (taken at eleven or twelve years old). 😉

Today I’m linking up with Kirsten Oliphant at Not So (Small) Stories! Join us: http://kirstenoliphant.com/2014/06/03/small-stories-eleventh-edition/



13 thoughts on “Why I Write for Children and Young Adults

  1. I ADORE “The Witch of Blackbird Pond.” I read it so many times during elementary and middle school. My poor copy was so torn up that I had to buy a new one!

  2. I read “The Fault in Our Stars” this Christmas and it was beautiful. I agree that there is something vivid and unruly about young adult writing. A notion of lust that grabs our attention.

    You’re a beautiful writer and I can’t wait to read whatever you wrote!

  3. Bridge to Terabithia made me cry so much. As a child and as an adult. Also loved “The Great Gilly Hopkins,” and “Jacob Have I Loved” by the same author, in case you are looking for what next.

  4. “Children’s, and YA books to a lesser but still tangible extent, let the world hope.” Amen! I love that, and it absolutely explains why I love those books still (and I teach elementary school, so I’ve never felt like I needed an excuse to be reading them!)

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