Joan Aiken asks: Who should write for children, and what should they write?

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Can anyone write a book for children?

Joan Aiken took her work very seriously, and was often asked to speak about it. A series of talks she gave was eventually published as a heartfelt guide called ‘The Way to write for Children’ and as her own mission statement, has inspired new writers ever since. As she was aware, this particular field was becoming a tempting market, but to whose advantage?

She wrote:Writing for Ch.3Lately there has been a good deal of discussion about the vogue for celebrity publishing, and perhaps given the healthy state of the children’s book industry and the number of excellent new writers appearing in recent years it does look like a tempting prospect.

Surely anyone could toss off a book for children? Not necessarily!

Joan Aiken had fun imagining a black hooded Grand Inquisition checking the motives of the would be author – and some of the answers that would receive ‘Nul Points’.

Such as: ‘I have read a few, anyone could do it, and it shouldn’t take long, they’re quite short,’ or ‘I’ve read surveys about what sells, there’s a formula, you need a brown furry talking vegetarian animal, with an alliterative name like Walter the Wombat…’

Finally a man comes in with an idea about a rusty bridge, and a trainee tea-taster, and an old lady, and a boy who has stolen piece of turf from a football field, and how they all meet by chance on the bridge and begin to realise they have met before… well, he says,  it’s a kind of ghost story…

What happens next?

Writing for Ch.2

She could be pretty fierce, but then she had spent years answering letters from children, or talking to them in schools, reading her own stories aloud and getting feedback and suggestions, and so she had a fairly good idea what would satisfy or nourish, or what could possibly turn them off reading for life…

Joan Aiken was also strongly in touch with her own childhood self –  the inner reader who had always been looking for answers in books.

Writing for Ch.3As she said:

‘Your book could be the one that starts a child reading, or the only one they possess – what kind of a power is that? Surely you should use it wisely.’


Read more about  Joan Aiken’s The Way to Write for Children

here on the Joan Aiken Website

6 thoughts on “Joan Aiken asks: Who should write for children, and what should they write?

  1. “I feel that writing books for children is – or should be – a vocation.”

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s just the same for teaching. Going into a classroom of seven year olds should light this joyous we-are-going-to-have-so-much-fun-today fire in your heart. Anything less and I suspect that you would soon find that life is a lot easier doing something else. If you love it though, there’s no better job in the world.

    I tell stories to the children almost every day, making them up on the spot. I don’t do it to practise story telling or to keep the children entertained but because I like being there, in the story, with the kids. They are both more and less discerning than adults when it comes to stories. They are never bothered by a talking tree or a cloud becoming a coat, but if the feel of a character is wrong or if the shape of the narrative gets muddled they notice, and point it out, immediately.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the Inquisition! And I wish I could read the story about the rusty bridge and the tea-taster.

    I wonder what Joan Aiken would make of today’s children as a reading audience, and what advice she’d have for getting them inspired? Gaming and films are so much more inviting for many, including my own. I tutor in English, and wonder how I can encourage children who enjoy the fun, whacky books of the early middle years, like the Wimpy Kid series, or the action-packed Beast Quest books, to move on to something a bit more meaty.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sharing and passing on the books you love is always the best way – whether it’s parents or teachers and librarians, or writers visiting schools and reading aloud, although these times of education cuts are hugely damaging. But social media (even like this!) can be a wonderfully fertile field for sharing recommendations and definitely helps to keep books as current as other passing temptations…?
    EG. There’s a Wolves readalong in August

    Liked by 2 people

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