Village Campfire

When I’m talking to wannabe writers I always say, ‘Read outside your genre, for heaven’s sake…’”

Thus saith Terry Pratchett, the second most popular writer in Britain and author of more than fifty books, including eleven novels for children.

When was the last time you read outside your genre? Not just the occasional dip into sci-fi/mystery/romance. This is a youth librarian asking. I want to know the last children’s novel you finished.

Besides Twilight.

Our own Mike Duran recently declared that young adult stories are not “without depth—which is one of the common misconceptions of non-YA readers. They assume that young adult lit is less sophisticated, more adolescent.”

Which reminds me of a famous quote from Madeline L’Engle: “When I have something to say which I think is going to be too difficult for adults, I write a book for children.”

But there is a second common criticism of children’s books. This time the accusation is reversed: certain novels are too sophisticated, kids’ books for adults who like to read kids’ books. A book that appeals strongly to adults, they claim, can have no real appeal for children.

Award-winning author Kathi Appelt addresses this issue (and more) in her wonderful essay, Blurring the Lines, where she writes, “we have lost the sense that each reader, regardless of age, brings his or her own individuality and sensibility to a book….

“I personally am tired of the segregation between adults and our kids. I fear we’ve become a society that is less and less tolerant, less and less interested in age-mixing. We put our elders in nursing homes. We put our babies in day care facilities. Our schools are separated by grade and age levels….

“But sisters and brothers, a book, ahhh, a book.

“Even when they are not read together or out loud, but passed from one person to another, a shared book has this capacity for desegregation between all of us, adults and children. It has the ability to soften, yes, to blur, some of the rigid lines that we’ve drawn around ourselves, including the lines between books for kids and books for adults.”

I love the oil she paints of readers, you and me, young and old, the story community:

I have an image of a brilliant campfire, and all of us are sitting around it, along with our own parents and our children, the whole village is there. It is dusk, the sun has set. The stories begin and as the fire dies down and the darkness deepens, one by one the little ones doze off and as they do, the stories get scarier or darker or more risqué. The point is, the children may fall asleep, but they’re still there. The adults and older children don’t forget them at their sides. They’re still in the circle of the campfire’s flame. I like this, the notion that the story community is intact, even though some of them are snoozing. And as they are ready to hear the darker stories, they’ll keep their eyes open a little longer.”

Read outside your genre, for heaven’s sake. Read a novel that blurs “the rigid lines that we’ve drawn around ourselves.” Chances are, the rigid lines in your own writing will start to soften, and as they do, your Story will begin.