Monday, August 20, 2012

Love of Reading, Love of Writing

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

My twin sons are avid absorbers of books and between what they can read themselves, what we listen to on audio books and my bedtime reading to them, we seem to have amassed an amazing backlist of children's books. Now, of course comes the inevitable plea-"why can't you write a children's book, mum?"  (my current output gets little more than a collective shrug from these two). I have to confess I have an idea brewing which I think, maybe, possibly, might make a terrific series chapter book...but (and it's a big but), books for children are not an endeavour I would ever enter into lightly. 

Children's books are, in my opinion, some of the hardest to write. Not only because children are the harshest, most brutally honest of all reviewers but also because I remember the impact reading had on me as a child and I want to live up to those expectations.

In the spirit of this, I have been compiling a list of my favorite chapter books I read as a child and identifying what made these so significant and memorable to me. There are books such as those by Enid Blyton that made me wish I could have adventures on my own island, classics such as Little Women that made me cry, and books like A Wrinkle in Time and the Narnia series that made me want to create my own fantastical worlds. 

What sets all of these books apart from the dull readers we were obliged to consume at school was the same elements that make a great thriller or mystery - they created compelling characters and places, had terrific plots and pacing and were the sort of books you literally couldn't put down.

So not much to live up to right?

As I continue my 'research phase' on children's chapter books, I'd love to add some more titles to my list - ones that are the kind of books that stand the test of time.  I'd like you to cast your minds back to when you were about eight or nine, and remember the books that made all the difference to you. They might be the ones that first inspired you to write - or the ones that made you the avid reader you are today...then let me know what you think about writing for children: a terrific new adventure or potentially treacherous seas?


  1. One book I loved didn't seem to stand the test of time: TUCKAWAY HOUSE by Charlotte Brewster Jordan. It seems to be out of print. It was the story of 7 little girls living in a small house. Something about it resonated with me. I also became an avid Nancy Drew reader, and later of course was delighted when I was able to write some of those under contract. So my early reading really did come in handy! I already knew all the characters inside and out.

  2. Well,'s very difficult to REMEMBER being 8 or 9 years old. 8-) I gobbled up every Hardy Boys book I could find. I also read a lot of horse books like Misty of Chincoteague, etc.

    I've never tried to write for the children's market. I have heard that it's hard to break into, but you could say the same for all areas of writing, really.

    I do have one very brief children's story on the back burner of my mind based on a hilarious incident with my great niece. Maybe one day I'll put it to paper.

  3. I read Cherry Ames, Judy Bolten, and Nancy Drew. Beyond these authors, I don't remember what I read. But I couldn't wait for the next installment in each of these mystery series.

  4. Hmm, age 8. That was centuries ago!

    I don't recall the author, but The Wolves of Willoughby Chase stayed with me. Don Maass mentions this in his seminars as one that he remembers, too.

    Being a horse lover, Walter Farley's Black Stallion books were a favorite, as were Jim Kjelgaard's dog books (Big Red, made into a Disney movie, and Irish Red).

    I loved SF and read all the Tom Swift books, as well as Rusty's Spaceship, before moving on to Robert Heinlein and Edgar Rice Burroughs.


  5. My young childhood was shaped by a set of pictorial encyclopedias of world history, the entire collection of Dr. Seuss, and Classics Illustrated Comics. By middle school I was reading the regular encyclopedias as if they were novels and devouring every kind of historical fiction and military history my local and school library had.

  6. With the increased usage of iPads, cell phones, TV, etc. we need to get young children and teens more interested in reading books, but first you will have to get their attention. We all love a good spooky story. It could be the inner child in us that still fears the dark. I wrote a series of spooky stories for my grandchildren. They are intended to be read around the family camp fire (the fireplace). Moral lessons are also contained within these stories. My grandchildren loved the stories so much that I decided to publish them in ebook form on the KINDLE bookstore under the title SPOOKY MOON STORIES by RAYMOND THOR. Click here:

  7. Thanks everyone - there are some books I don't know - which will be great to look at. Am I the only one who can easily channel their inner 8 year old? Sadly I fear I can summon my inner child way too easily!

  8. You know, one thing to consider these days is audiobooks as well. When I was a kid I had several friends who almost never picked up a book outside of school. They said they weren't interested in books, but whenever I made up stories in our clubhouse or backyard camp tent, they sat their listening with rapt attention. They liked stories, but reading was hard for their ten or twelve year old minds to enjoy.

    All three of my sons are voracious readers, well I assume the adult son still reads but when he was at home he did. Problem is my eleven year old has a hard keep up in reading. He loves to, but it takes time for him. Audiobooks though, he'll plow through an audiobook every few days if he's got enough time between school work. And i'm not talking about little kid books either, right now he's got HG Wells "The Time Machine", CS Lewis "The Silent Planet", and Jack London's "Call of Wild" queued up on his MP3 player...of his own choice.

    Audiobooks of today, can be a way to encourage more kids to at least be interested in long form stories, whether they read or listen.

  9. Well heck, I never really stopped reading Middle Grade books. I love them so. I grew up devouring Beverly Cleary, and when I discovered Elizabeth Enright, I read her Melendy books over and over and over. Such simple, clear, beautiful prose. The Black Stallion and all the wolf books (Kjelegaard, Morey, London and the rest) were big.

    Also juvie mysteries. I remember chewing through the Three Investigators, but only the first twelve or so with Alfred Hitchcock's name on them. Once the other writers came in, the mysteries weren't as good. There were a bunch of Christian MG mystery series I got into by Lee Roddy, one set on Hawaii and dealt with all kinds of fun, island-related stuff (tsunamis, hurricanes, lava tubes, volcanoes, sunken submarines, the works).

    Dave Farland has some good advice on his website about what children's fiction needs to contain. Here's the first of several articles:

    It boils down to, "wonder, adventure, horror, mystery, and a little humor."

  10. I remember reading Nancy Drew and The Babysitters Club. I am sure that there were more, but I always read books that were not really meant for my age (my parents were happy that I was reading since they weren't big readers and may not have known what I was reading). But I love going to the Children's section to see what they have, and while it is comforting to see Junie B Jones, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys sitting on the shelves. It is even more comforting to see new titles Like the Sisters Grimm series, Artemis Fowl, and authors like Orson Scott Card and Suzanne Collins.
    Just as with YA, New YA and Adult books, variety is just as beautiful as the classics. As far as writing children's books-not sure if I would be able to but I definitely believe it's worth trying.

  11. Nancy Drew, Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Peterkin Papers (best comedic timing ever, they still hold up today), Dr. Seuss, Wizard of Oz


  12. When I was 8 or 9 I used to order lots of books from Scholastic. You could do this right in class. It's hard to remember exactly how old I was when I read things, but from early/mid grade school I can remember A Wrinkle in Time, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The FH Burnetts, especially The Secret Garden, The Phantom Tollbooth, all things Paddington (darkest Peru!!! and England!), Narnia. There were books that I don't recall the names of that probably are long out of print about a girl named Meg and her life in Maine. I liked Caddie Woodlawn, but had no use for the Little House books. I was never a Nancy Drew fan. She was too, um Pollyannaish? perhaps for me. I guess I liked the exotic and flawed even then.

  13. They weren't in print when I was 9, but the Louis Sacher Wayside Stories books are great for that age.a