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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Monsters and Mayhem and Middle Grade, Oh My

Monday I had drinks with the wonderful Harper editor Molly O’Neill. Molly has been a fan of and an advocate for my book from the very beginning (when my book is finally released, you can check out her shout-out in my acknowledgments) but this was the first time we’d ever spent time together one-on-one.

And lordy, was it fun.

Molly is completely, completely passionate about children’s books, and she’s also smart and deeply engaged with the world around her and absolutely fascinating to talk to. I feel like I’ll probably be blogging about our girl-date for days to come, because our conversation was so interesting and rich and took so many twists and turns and zig-zags—and I feel like we only scratched the surface of all the things we have to discuss!

Okay, I’ll stop geeking out about Molly now and get onto one of the major things we discussed. Basically, as I wait for edits on my second book (eek!) I am trying to distract myself by working on a book for younger readers. I suppose it falls under the rubric of middle grade, although it might skew even younger. (But it is definitely a chapter book, with a fairly sophisticated vocabulary.) I’m sure that this question is irrelevant because the book is probably terrible and will no doubt never see the light of day, but I’ve been curious about how dark/disturbing books for younger readers can go? It’s probably a difficult question to answer in the abstract, but I’m just wondering what people think…

Coraline’s pretty dark, for example, but I’m not sure what age group Neil Gaiman is targeting? And I always felt Roald Dahl’s books were pretty dark, and I absolutely adored them when I was younger (I still read Matilda every time I’m sick).

One thing I love that Molly said—and an illustration of why she’s such a great editor!—was that children’s books need to leave their readers feeling more in control of their worlds than they were before reading. They need to give their readers some kind of key, or door—a way of understanding the world and feeling comfortable in it. I love this idea, and totally agree (actually, I think this is true of every great book…).

Opinions? Thoughts? Comments? Expressions of concern?

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