March 11

“It’s a Small World” (and thoughts on audience)

“It’s a Small World,” my story about Calgary’s children’s literature scene, appears in today’s issue of Swerve . One of the author/illustrators I profile, Renata Liwska, drew the illustrations for the Swerve story. My work has never been dressed so beautifully. I’ve included one of Liwska’s illustrations above, but to see the rest you are going to have to pick up a copy of the magazine.

The story profiles five local writers and illustrators: David A. Poulson, Clem Martini, Shenaaz Nanji, Renata Liwska, and Carolyn Fisher. It was a great pleasure to meet with these creators to talk about both the art and business of writing for children, the challenges of the genre, and what inspired them to ‘kid lit’ in the first place. As a new dad, I feel ‘invested’ in this genre and will now seek out books for my little boy with a far more critical eye. (As it happens, Liwska’s The Quiet Book is one of his current favourites.)

I set out to write this story under the impression that children’s literature is, perhaps, the only genre in which authors write for an audience they are not part of. I learned that this is not true. All the writers I profile create the kinds of books that they, themselves, would like to read. Some write for the children that they once were, others for the children that they still are. And all these writers continue to read children’s literature for their own entertainment.

My time with these authors made me consider a more general question about audience. Who do writers actually write for? When I sit down to write I never imagine a future reader. I want my work to challenge a reader’s misconceptions, say, or introduce a reader to a culture, issue, or viewpoint that he or she may have never considered. But I don’t think about who this reader is. I strive, instead, to write the kind of story I would like to read. I try to portray my experiences in a way that compels me.

If the children’s authors are writing for themselves, perhaps we all are.