Responsibility in Children’s Publishing and Media
After thirty years in the media, I’ve noticed those in children’s publishing recognize a higher level of responsibility in their work, not shared among writers of adult books. Writers of children’s books understand our products influence the lives of children. I am a member of the media industry, and I believe strongly in the First Amendment! However, I hold those in children’s media to a higher standard.
Technology continues to evolve, which directly affects the publishing industry. Freedom of speech and an abundance of self-publishing avenues have flooded the marketplace with mediocre and inappropriate content for children. More than ever, those in children’s publishing have a responsibility to create works of excellence that transcend cycles in the marketplace and have potential to endure and influence children for generations to come.
Children’s books have the capacity to span generations. Books read as children are read later as parents, and later again as grandparents. Time for Bed, by Mem Fox and Margaret Brown’s Goodnight Moon are two of many examples of tales transcending time. As advances in technology expand, the responsibilities of those in children’s publishing expand exponentially. Those in publishing need to know what kids are reading, and more importantly, content providers for young readers have a responsibility to put out quality, age-appropriate books.
As a writer and editor, I understand we all have an agenda when we write—besides trying to make a living. Writers have stories they need to tell, and every written word is a tiny extension of ourselves. Our experiences make us who we are, and writers create from their core of existence. “Research has shown significantly more children’s books deal with death and themes of death than adult books,” said Josh McGuire, former book and music buyer from Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Maybe it’s a form of therapy,” McGuire said.
Which leads to one responsibility of children’s writers—to craft stories from the heart without writing to a formula or a specific market. Though writers need to know their audience, the writer has the responsibility to craft the best possible, age-appropriate story, that shows characters going through experiences as children. Any moral lessons need to be written with respect to children, without preaching in “adult-speak.” Writers are also responsible for doing their homework, researching publishers and reading similar books in their genre.
Working with authors, editors have the responsibility to know their market, comparable titles, what’s appropriate content for their age group, and to some degree, knowledge in child development. I’ve researched much in the area of child development. However, I’ve had the fortune of finding a therapist, mentor, counselor, and friend who happens to have a doctorate in child development. (Shoutout Dr. Alice!)
Editors help authors tighten and improve their stories so kids can relate. If a book with a higher moral purpose is going to succeed, it needs to be written from the core experience of the writer, and expanded upon by the editor, without adult-speak and preachiness. Kids recognize it immediately, and if any child feels like a book is going to turn into a lecture, well, in most cases, the reader will close the book.
Editors are also responsible for brainstorming with authors, gently leading, to help create the best works possible, which requires a knowledge of child development spanning different genres. Knowledge of child development is extremely beneficial to children’s book editors (and writers).
As a reviewer, my personal goal is to seek and share some of the best books I find in children’s literature. I don’t waste time with bad reviews; there are too many great books out there. It is my responsibility to give fair consideration to all titles, not just frontlist titles from big publishers with big marketing budgets. I also am blessed with a personal focus group of four children, so I get to see and share the books they choose to read. (You can see some of their picks on childressink.com.) I also look for debut authors. And above all, great stories.
Yet ultimately, parents control what their children access. They are the “gatekeepers,” as termed by marketing departments. Parents have the responsibility to check out what their kids are viewing. Talk about those you like (I’ve found hilarious YouTube content thanks to my kids, like Brian Reghan and SuperWoman-Shoutout!) But then, point out anything you see that is inappropriate or goes against what you teach in the house, and why. Teach your children discernment in the media, now more than ever, as this generation and future generations grow with media devices in their hands as toddlers. Screening content is essential! And I challenge parents to take it a step further and write to producers.
Many writers of children’s books write from experiences of their own childhood, like myself. In paraphrasing an 18-year-old I happened to hear on the radio this morning, children’s books can help bring children and teens out of “their bubble” and make them question the big stuff of life. Children and teens today experience more pressures than ever, and “stories” have the power to pull kids out of the cycle of school, schoolwork, dysfunction and unfairness, and examine the world outside themselves.
Reading was the way I survived childhood through a dysfunctional divorce. Every day I rode my bike to the library and participated in all kinds of reading contests. I learned there were other kids like me, even if they were fictional. As an adult, the epiphany moment to write for children came when I heard Patricia MacLachlan speak at a conference, and I thought how books saved my life as a child;, and maybe, in my writing, I may open the eyes of even one child to the amazing life beyond high school.
Then the struggles I experienced (that we ALL experience) happen for a reason. I seek the good, and in doing so, I hope to be a guiding light in a broken world.