What do you do when you're ten, and you've just read an amazing book? You re-read it.
I've been visiting schools and talking to children about my brand-new book The Griffins of Castle Cary. One boy said "I love spooky!" Another child said "If there was a sequel, I would read it in a flash!"
Then a 10-year-old gave the Griffins the highest compliment a child can give: "I'm re-reading it."
The Griffins of Castle Cary has been in children's hands for a few weeks. I'm thrilled with the reception. Here's what people are saying: Action-packed. Spooky & charming! Fast-paced. Adorable. Magical. We laughed out loud. We stayed up past 10 pm three nights in a row to finish it! Fabulously told. I adore the characters. Huge fan. Keep writing for kids!
Well, the good news is I'm going to. I've found my home here in Middle Grade fiction, and intend to keep writing more books for kids. For those of you who've grown up with my It's OK Not to Share books, now you'll have something for everyone in the family to read.
Here's what the book is about:
Siblings Meg, Will, and Ariel Griffin are off on an adventure! They can’t wait to spend a week visiting their eccentric aunt and her giant, tongue-drooling Newfoundland dog in England. But when they finally arrive, they’re faced with a few local secrets that stir up more than a little trouble.
Add in some very peculiar lights, strange new friends, a police chase and some stampeding sheep, and the Griffin kids are in over their heads—literally. Apparently this town has a ghost problem and the three children must race to solve the mystery before the ghosts take something that doesn’t belong to them.
I love everything about children's fiction: the writing, the children, the school visits. I also love the infinite range of story ideas. Writing for children means I can write about any idea, since kids' minds are willing to travel any place imaginable.
"I hope she's working on a sequel," said one 12-year-old. "Because I'm going to rip right through this book!"
Don't worry. I am. I'm writing two new books for kids right now, one a sequel to The Griffins of Castle Cary, and the other a historical fiction adventure. Can't wait to share them with you.
But in the meantime, happy summer reading! And when fall comes around, invite me to your school for an author visit or for Battle of the Books. I'd love to come meet you and share my love of books and reading.
What books did YOU re-read as a child? Or which ones are you re-reading now?
I read a news story recently about two Americans who traveled overseas to climb mountains. They stopped to visit a group children's home while they were there. Stunned to see children playing in an empty schoolyard with only old tires and no playground equipment, they came home to raise $10,000 to buy playground equipment.
This story bothered me on several levels.
For one thing, the travelers reported they were amazed to see children playing with so little. Maybe they were amazed to see children playing at all. True play can be rather rare to see these days in America.
True play is child-initiated and child-directed. It can occur on a blank playground. It can occur with a few tires. Children can play - and do play - when all they are given is space and time. My childhood elementary school playground in the US also had a blank playground. No playground equipment: just a rectangular yard with nothing in it. A year or so later they upgraded the playground by adding a few old tires. It was good either way: recess was still wonderful.
The main ingredient kids need for play, is what we often withhold: TIME.
This story made me think about play, but also about human compassion and our urge to help.
When we can help someone, it's important to ask how best to help. Raising thousands of dollars can certainly be helpful - but what does the school need? Maybe in this case another teacher, or a bus. What about a well, books for a library, or medical care?
The urge to help is wonderful. But - whether you are dealing with an overseas trip or a young child who is frustrated when her fort falls down - remember to be respectful and ask the experts. The experts are the children. The experts are the people who live there. The experts are the ones involved.
"What would you like me to do?" "How can I help?"
Pause. Ask. Listen. Together you will figure it out.
Have you ever had fun on a blank playground? What works for you when asking or accepting help?
If you ask a girl what she's reading, chances are she'll rattle off a list of favorite books that feature both boy and girl characters. Girls read across gender lines. They're used to it. Many of the classic books written for children are about young boys and their adventures. Girls are used to inhabiting a boy's mind.
But what about boys? Do you ever shrink from reading a good book to a boy because it might be too girly?
Good books are good books. We shortchange boys and underestimate them when we don't expose boys to stories with girl main characters. And not just tough girl characters who fight and act like warriors. Regular girls. All kinds of girls.
Think Little House on the Prairie. The Diary of Anne Frank. Island of the Blue Dolphins. The Penderwicks. The Vanderbeekers of 141st St. And many, many more.
A recent article about adult men who shun all books by female authors made me think of this. Really? Seriously? These days? But perhaps it starts young, with lack of empathy and experience. Perhaps we adults unwittingly contribute to this when we self-select books out that "boys wouldn't be interested in."
Give boys and girls a chance. Sure, kids gravitate to a certain genre or favorite author, but our job is to widen their world and mix it up. Girls are certainly exposed to male values and interests. Boys could gain a lot from stepping into a female world.
Stories develop empathy. They get us into the mind and life of another person. Don't be frightened to push the border and be a champion for empathy.
As a Hungarian novelist said, when asked about rising hate crimes and discrimination: "Our society's biggest problem, beyond poverty, is a lack of empathy."
Go forth and kindle empathy!