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Thursday, April 7, 2011

What Do Kids Want to Read?

I often ask the kids at the library what kinds of books they are currently reading and enjoying - or not enjoying. The other day, I was struck by the urge to ask one of the kids, who is a voracious reader, to come up with what she considers to be an ideal book premise. (I think I wanted some ideas for the children's novel I plan to write soon. And by "soon," I mean "never.") 

Initially, I asked the girl (who I will call "C"): "If someone were going to write a book just for you, what would YOU want to read?" Without a moment’s hesitation, she replied: “Realistic fiction about life.”  Well, okay then! That was easy enough. I then asked C to describe the hypothetical plot. Here is the as-accurate-as-possible transcript of the conversation, which I found very enlightening:

C: “There’s a little girl. Her parents just died in a car accident. Only the little girl survived, so she goes to live with an unknown cousin in France.”

R: “France?”

C: “Yes.”

R: “Why France?”

C: “I don’t know. It can be closer. Like Iowa.

Huh. Iowa. Okay. In the interest of cultural simplicity, C changed the premise. The little girl goes to stay with her grandparents in Iowa. She originally lived in a city, so she now must adjust to her new surroundings. She has trouble making friends in school because she’s so different from the other kids, and she often feels sad and lonely. (I couldn't help but wonder how much of this is autobiographical. It certainly describes parts of my childhood.)

Then things take an even darker turn:

C: “Her grandparents also die.”

R: “Oh no! How do they die?”

C: (thoughtful pause) “Stroke.”

R: “That's sad."
C: "Yeah, but it’s not a bad thing that they died. It’s a good thing because they are now resting in peace.”

R: "Okay, I can understand that. Then what happens?”

C: “The girl starts getting mental problems.”

R : “Okaaay...what kind of mental problems?”

C (rolling her eyes): “I don’t know, I’m not a psychiatrist!” (Ha!)

R: “Okay, okay. Sorry.”

C: “So, then the girl grows up and starts to feel better and goes to live with a friend in college. But she still has problems.”

R: “That's how it ends?”

C: “Yup.”  

R: "So, it doesn't have a happy ending."

C: “My brother told me not all stories have to end good.”

R: “Yes, that’s true. Some don’t.”

C: “I get too used to it when it ends good.”

So do I, actually. Wise words from a 10-year-old. Then C went on to describe a book that would be better suited for younger kids, since the one we just discussed was obviously too sad. Here's a quick plot summary:

There's a kid who is seven years old and she wants to buy a dog, but her parents are allergic, so she can't. BUT, because she works hard selling lemonade at a lemonade stand, the girl is able to buy a dog in secret and keep it in the garage. (Her parents don't know it's there because it's allergy season.) Once autumn rolls around, her parents discover the dog and make the girl get a lot of pets that don't have fur. Eventually, she has to give up all the pets and get a goldfish.

I'm not quite sure how this plot isn't sad, but there you have it! These are the kinds of thing that kids want to read these days. Maybe I will try my hand at children's book writing after all. I think there's a lot to work with here. (Can anyone out there draw goldfish really well??)


  1. This is exactly the best thing about working in the Children's dept. A few days ago one of my patrons asked me if I believed in dragons. Love it!

  2. There's never a dull moment. What did you answer???

  3. I told her I'd never seen one, but that didn't mean they don't exist. Also, I gave her our "reference" copy of Dragonology (http://www.amazon.com/Dragonology-Complete-Book-Dragons-Ologies/dp/0763623296) to browse, and when she returned it it, she said, "I think this might be the perfect book for me."

  4. Great answers from both of you! That's a nice story. :)

  5. I personally think real life beats zombies, werewolves, aliens and phantasmagorias every time.

  6. I love that she's not a psychiatrist!

    I'd get to writing that book... but my "soon" is shockingly similar to yours...

  7. Emily, that's the wisest, most wonderful answer ever from a librarian. I love it so much I just tweeted it :) It's made my weekend!

  8. I love this! It reminds me of a teacher mtg. I had about my oldest son's lack of progress in building his vocabulary. Her advice was he should read more. When I told him this, he balked. He said he hates reading fiction because there are no good books out there. I asked him what he likes reading and he said "Realistic stuff, not wizards and dragons and all that other stuff." (By which, I think he means sparkly vampires.)

    We sat down with a pad and he gave me a list. Hockey. Metal music. Murder. Mystery. Cool kids with no magic. No love story. Short chapters.

    I finished my first novel with this list: Penalty Killer, a story about a varsity hockey player's dad arrested for the murder of a rival player's dad after a loud argument gets them both ejected from the last game of the season.

    Give this child my email address, would you? Gold mine!

  9. I think that kind of tragic plot premise is pretty par for the course. When I was that age, I used to pretend that my parents had abandoned me (or died) and I was forced to live by myself in the woods for weeks on end, scavenging from the land and relying on the help of my magical animal friends (I read a lot of Tamora Pierce).

    And then I would go inside and eat a cookie.

  10. I enjoyed reading that but .......... I was hoping that there would be topics for ( because someday I would like to write a book too!) poetry! I am really great at poetry so ....... I was hoping that there would be topics that kids would like to read about in poetry, not an actual book. Partly my fault! SORRY! Thanks for your help! ;) AWESOME