Writing for a younger audience as an adult is a tricky business. Granted, I still feel like an 11-year-old kid on the inside, but actual 11 year olds tell me that I am, in fact, a grown woman who should probably not hog the swings at the park. And in my writing, as much as I try to channel my inner child, I know that sometimes I may be missing some of the intense wonder and possibility that most people only feel until a certain age.
When that happens I think back to the fantasy and sci-fi books that drew me in as a child, the ones I read over and over. One series that I loved was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I read them again and again through the years, and every time I would get something new. As an eight year old, I struggled to wrap my brain around the concept but was fascinated by the raw emotions of Meg and her family. At 12 I only cared about the romance between Meg and Calvin. And in high school I was finally able to marvel at the complexity of the world and the characters.
I also loved The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts, where the main character moves things with her mind. She was an outsider (like me) who found friends and mastered her powers to do cool things. I remember logging serious time staring at objects and trying to move them with the power of my thoughts, or trying to have conversations with my friends telepathically.
The series on my shelf that had the most worn spines was The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. The main character was a boy, Taran, but I could completely relate to him. And the world that Alexander created was so rich that you could practically smell the pig pen that Taran had to keep clean. To this day just seeing the covers reminds me of rainy days huddled by a window with a book and nights with a flashlight under the blanket.
I could go on and on. But these blasts from my past always help me realize that a great fantasy or sci-fi is less about a cool concept or a fascinating world, and more about a character who feels real to a kid. The character can be as smart or powerful as an adult, but they must approach the world with curiosity and hope, and believe that they still have the power to make a difference, even if it is in a small way. And when they do, every kid who reads that story feels for a minute like they might be special too.
What are the books that you read as a child that still inspire you now?
Harry Potter and the American Girl series were my favorites!
I still like the “Riddlemaster of Hed” series by Patricia McKillip. And, of course, LOTR and the Hobbit–but that goes without saying.
I just checked my kindle for “Riddlemaster of Hed” but I can’t get it. I will have to see if I can get a hardcopy from my library. I’m always excited to check out good kids fantasy classics. Thanks!
I’d classify it as young adult as opposed to children’s… maybe even adult. I just read it as a kid and enjoyed it. Back in the day.