Welcome to another Expanded Universe column where I feature essays from authors and editors of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, as well as from established readers and reviewers. My guest today is Sarah Beth Durst. Durst is the author of nine fantasy novels for children, teens, and adults, including (click link to read our reviews) Conjured, Vessel, and Ice. Her new middle-grade novel, The Girl Who Could Not Dream, which Tadiana loves, is from HMH/Clarion Books, and her next novel for adults, The Queen of Blood, comes out in fall 2016 from Harper Voyager. Sarah was awarded the 2013 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature and has been a finalist for SFWA’s Andre Norton Award three times. She attended Princeton University, where she spent four years studying English, writing about dragons, and wondering what the campus gargoyles would say if they could talk. Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband and two children.
The best part about writing for kids is that you can write about a rainbow-pooping unicorn completely unironically.
His name is Glitterhoof.
A lot of people think of writing for kids in terms of what they think you can’t do: you can’t make it a thousand pages long, you can’t use archaic words that even Scrabble rejects, you can’t have your characters do things that would make the Nature Channel blush…
And to a certain extent that’s true. You can’t write an epic tome composed entirely of adults downing whisky… I mean, you can certainly write such a book, and it could be fabulous, but it wouldn’t be shelved next to Madeleine L’Engle‘s A Wrinkle in Time.
But what I’ve found in writing for kids is that it is much more about what you CAN do than about what you CAN’T. When you write for kids, you can be silly and you can be sad, all in the same story. You can let your imagination run wild and concentrate on making the story whatever that little ten-year-old stuck in your subconscious wants it to be.
My upcoming novel, The Girl Who Could Not Dream (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Clarion Books, Nov 2015), is about a girl whose family owns a secret store where they buy, bottle, and sell dreams, and the adventure that she and her pet monster go on when someone starts kidnapping dreamers. And I had such a fantastic time writing it, because of the freedom inherent in writing a novel about a character who has not lost her sense of wonder.
Also because of the monster.
And the rainbow-pooping unicorn.
But a lot because of the sense of wonder.
For me, one of the reasons that I love fantasy is that I believe fantasy literature has (or can have) the power to restore a sense of wonder to a jaded world. I love when you close a book and feel that the world is just a bit larger and more magical than it was before. I believe this can be true of fantasy books regardless of whether they’re for kids, teens, or adults. It just varies as to the kind of wonder.
In a kid’s book, the wonder is a first-time kind of wonder. What I mean by that is when you write about a twelve year old character, you have the opportunity to write about someone who is experiencing that larger, more magical world for the first time. You have the chance to see that world through their eyes.
And in doing so, you can experience that silly and sad and scary and funny and fun for the first time all over again. Completely unironically.
Readers, what is your favorite SF/F kids book? What does it do that a book written for adults could not? One random commenter (US only, alas!) will win a signed copy of The Girl Who Could Not Dream.