Why I Write Books for Kids by J.A. White

Article by debut-author

Short Answer (Take your pick—all are true.): A) I’m a teacher. B) I’m a dad. C) I love kids. D) I love books for kids.

Long Answer (Equally true, but harder to explain.):

While I don’t necessarily miss being a child, I miss being a child reader. I still treasure books, of course, but my enjoyment of them is somewhat hampered by an understanding of their origins, the knowledge that books are written by talented men and women who love to tell stories but also need to earn a living. This inevitable realization—that the once mysterious workings of the world are composed of mere practicalities—is one of the true curses of adulthood. As a child, the thought that an author was paid for his or her work never occurred to me; books were simply truths that fell from the sky, as mysterious as ancient doors leading to far-off kingdoms. I remember being 8 or 9, crouched low by the fiction section of my school’s library (a long row of tightly packed volumes running beneath a giant window that overlooked the playground), sliding out volume after volume just to crinkle the corners of the books’ jacket covers because they were that magnificent. There are benefits to being an adult reader—the learned awareness of an artist’s craft, for example—but I’m not sure the scholarly appreciation of a great work of literature can ever compare with swallowing The Tombs of Atuan in one sitting, with loving a story utterly and completely and feeling not the slightest pressure to justify why. I regard all children with a certain amount of envy for this ability, and that is why it saddens me whenever I meet a child who doesn’t like to read. They don’t know what they’re missing, and the clock is ticking.

The reason I write for children, then, has more to do with them than me. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that children are more appreciative readers than adults, but I feel like they enjoy a purer appreciation. I remember the undiluted love I had for books as a child, and it gives me the greatest pleasure—as both an author and a person—to think that some boy or girl might while away a rainy afternoon with one of mine. Stories, after all, are the greatest gifts we can bestow, and children their worthiest recipients.

A brief interview between Mary-Catherine and J.A. White, in which she tries her best to not beg for information on the upcoming books in the series.

MC: You mentioned THE TOMBS OF ATUAN in your piece--which other books, from your childhood or current day, would recommend for young Brazos Bookstore readers?
JAW: Wow—where to start? My favorite fantasy series growing up was THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN by Lloyd Alexander. I also loved A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle, the Earthsea books by Ursula LeGuin, and anything by John Bellairs, particularly THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS. Some of my current favorites include THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS by John Connolly (as well as his Samuel Johnson books), the Bartimaeus series by Jonathan Stroud, and the short story collection M IS FOR MAGIC by Neil Gaiman (which contains “October in the Chair,” one of my favorite short stories). A few other recent titles I really enjoyed were THE LUCK UGLIES by Paul Durham, THE RIVERMAN by Aaron Starmer, and THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS by Claire Legrand.

MC: In light of the different ways kids and adults read, what do you think about the current trend of adults reading children's lit and YA?
JAW: I love the fact that so many adults are enjoying children’s lit and YA! Why not? The true measure of a book’s success is whether or not it can be enjoyed by a reader of any age; a good story is a good story, period. (For example, UMBRELLA by Taro Yashima is, for my money, one of the most perfectly realized narratives ever written—and it’s a picture book.) Also, when adults read the same books as the children in their lives it provides such a golden opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about literature. It’s a win-win for everyone!

MC: Has writing for children helped you recapture that purity of a child's book appreciation? Has it changed how you relate to books?
JAW: In terms of my own reading, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recapture the purity of appreciation that I had as a child. Don’t get me wrong—I still get giddy whenever any of my favorite authors release a book (that means you, Gillian Flynn—hurry up). But although reading gives me great pleasure, the writer side of me is always considering the author’s technique and why he/she wrote things a particular way. I wish I could turn that analytical part of my brain off and just enjoy the story, but I can’t. On the other hand, writing THE THICKETY has allowed me to meet young people who have that wide-eyed appreciation for something I wrote, which is an utter honor and the best feeling in the world. So I guess reading will never be the same as when I was a kid, but writing has never been better!

THE THICKETY is on our shelves now!  

The Thickety: A Path Begins Cover Image
By J. A. White, Andrea Offermann (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780062257246
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Katherine Tegen Books - May 6th, 2014

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