Years ago, when I was working in kidlit publishing, we used to receive enormous bundles of unsolicited manuscripts in the mail.
You with me?
So many manuscripts that I had a large cardboard box (the kind that nicely holds 15 bottles of wine…) full of potential children’s books, sitting at my feet all day long.
Limited legroom at that desk.
Whenever I had a moment, or anyone else had a moment, we would dip into the ‘wine box’ and take out a story.
Hoping desperately that this would be the one. The one that would make us tap dance, swoon and whip out a publishing contract. (In that order.)
One story from the booze box has stayed with me for years.
This story was FUNNY, quirky and highly imaginative. It had energy and imagination.
The author (an academic) had no idea whatsoever about how to write for children.
So, while I was laughing and sighing and admiring the beauty of the prose, I was also groaning on the inside because yet another deluded adult had not taken the time to find out what makes a good story for children.
This arrogance was quite common among aspiring children’s authors and to be frank it really pissed me off.
I don’t like laziness. And I don’t like people who haven’t got some skin in the game, who don’t take the time to do their homework and to actually CARE.
People in the children’s book industry really, really CARE.
To say we’re passionate is an understatement.
To treat our multi-million dollar industry, our work and our contribution to culture in an offhand or flippant way is objectionable.
I’ve never met a kidlit author, illustrator, editor, publisher or bookseller who isn’t still waxing lyrical about Milly Molly Mandy or the Chronicles of Narnia or My Side of the Mountain.
Who, given half the chance, wouldn’t enthuse wildly about the talents of Diana Wynne Jones, Kate DiCamilo or Sonia Hartnett.
Who doesn’t have illustrations from their favourite books on the walls of their homes and who doesn’t lovingly display Picture Books in their living room.
Why are we so passionate?
Because kids books, and the creators of kids books, matter.
They matter greatly.
As Kathleen Kelly (aka Meg Ryan) says in You’ve Got Mail,
When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.
Writing books for children is a profession.
It requires knowledge, commitment, education and more than a small amount of courage.
Sure, we have celebrity kidlit authors swaggering about on our patch. They come and they go, stealing precious shelf space while they have a little flutter. Some care. Many don’t.
But the genuine practitioners, the ones who deeply appreciate Kathleen Kelly’s words, the one’s who will always have part of their soul residing in the Faraway Tree, they’re the ones that keep the industry turning.
It can be a fickle industry. And it has some formidable (electronic) competitors.
And yet kids are still reading books.
Kids are still loving books.
And talented, intelligent, caring adults are still writing books for kids.
In an uncertain world, it’s comforting to know that somewhere today a new story, a new adventure, a new character, a new talking mouse or yellow rabbit is being born.
I like that very much.
And, dear reader, I’m suspect you do too.
The Scribbles Academy opens its doors, tomorrow. If you’d like to write books for children, or even if you just want to unleash your creative potential, I invite you to join us!
CLICK HERE to find out more.