Writing Real Books
by Heather Montgomery
Thank you, Elizabeth, for asking me to drop by today. I love chatting about kids’ nonfiction! I thought I’d share a 2-minute conversation that changed the way I think about writing for children.
When I started writing nonfiction books for kids, a friend asked me: “When are you going to write a real book?”
Honestly, the question shocked me. “What!?!” I wanted to shout, how does she have the gall to put down my chosen profession?
After a deep breath and a minute of thought, I realized that my friend could not have meant it as an insult. She’s just not that kind of person. So I asked her to clarify.
“Well, I mean…” she rooted around in her mind for a minute, “The nonfiction books I love show me a new idea or new take on a topic – something that really excites me because I’ve never thought of it that way before. But kids’ books. . .” her eyes and her voice dropped away. “I mean, aren’t kids’ books just simplified versions of adult books?”
She had a point. I’ve read children’s books that felt like watered down copies of an adult book. Or books that were just summaries of a well-known topic. But, don’t kids want books that stretch their minds, too. Books that present new ideas. Books that challenge the “what if’s,” the “why’s,” the “how come’s” of the world?
Illustration from HOW RUDE, illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.
I chewed on my friend’s question for a long time. I looked for that kind of book in the children’s market. There were a few, but only a few. Would my next book be a real book? Would it point a flashlight down some dark unknown path?
At that point in my career, I was trying to make my “bug book” work. I love bugs. You could say I’m ADDICTED to bugs. On any day of the week, you might find me nose-to-nose with a caterpillar, butt-up and staring down a cicada burrow, or tracking down a katydid from my tree-top writing spot. I had been trying to write a children’s book about bugs for years. Trying to put my passion into words.
Heather's outdoor workstation.
But, none of my manuscripts worked. They all forced a lesson down the readers’ throat. Dull. Dry. Boring.
Like a bell in my head, I heard my friend’s words: “When are you going to write a real book?” Why wasn’t I trusting kids to be just as curious as I am about a weird, zany approach to looking at bugs?
That was the genesis of my most recent book, HOW RUDE! REAL BUGS WHO WON’T MIND THEIR MANNERS. That’s right, a book about the “Bad Boys” of the bug world. I’m talking about bugs that slurp and burp and throw their poop. Bugs that are just plain rude. You won’t find any other book like it. No re-packaged encyclopedia entry here. A real book for real curious kids.
Thanks to one question that shocked me, I’ve discovered something important – I like writing books that carve new paths across the land of information. I’m going to trust kids to take those paths. I’m going to trust them to launch out on their own from it. I can’t wait to see where it takes us!
Another of Heather's favorite workstations.