The other day I posted about my books making people cry and how I’m okay with that. But I have to admit that when I’m classed as someone who writes sad books or issues based books, I sometimes feel a bit frustrated.
I certainly explore some tough issues and some sad situations, but I think when we use terms like ‘issues-fiction’ or label a story as being about a particular issue, we can do the book a disservice.
When a kid picks up a book, they are, on the whole , looking to be entertained. As they read, they may also learn things. That’s fine. But if we suggest that they should be reading a book just because it deals with a particular issue (childhood cancer, or dementia, or the horrors of war, for example), we risk alienating them before they even start.
It’s a bit like healthy food: telling kids they should eat a healthy salad ‘because it’s good for them’ is, on the whole, less successful than telling them it’s yummy. And definitely less successful than if it actually is yummy. The kid who enjoys the first mouthful of salad is far more likely to keep eating, and get the health benefits along with the full tummy and the enjoyment of the meal.
So, too, with a book. Saying: You should read this book because it deals with a weighty issue you need to know about is a turn off. You should read this book because it’s funny, or exciting, or interesting is more enticing. But most successful of all is when a kid samples the book (through a good blurb, or browsing the opening pages, or even being read a little bit of it in class) and wants to know what happens next.
To me, character and plot come waaaaaaaay before any issue. But that’s the topic for another blog post (or two). In the meantime, my point is this: as a writer of fiction, story is always key; and if you are an adult offering books to kids, don’t just tell them it’s good for them. Tell them why they’ll like it, or better still, give them a chance to taste it for themselves.