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Caroline Adderson on kidlit: Excerpt from Off the Record

The following is an excerpt from Off the Record edited by John Metcalf (Biblioasis, December 2023)

I’d like to say a few words about my writing for children, which I began around the time I was writing the stories in Pleased to Meet You. This is the other half of my writing career. There’s only one other writer in Canada with a completely dual career in literary fiction and children’s literature—the wonderful Cary Fagan.

I started writing for kids when my son was five. That summer, whenever we came home after an outing, I’d think: what happened today? That was a story! At first I thought I’d write down these funny adventures so that he could read them when he was older. I’m not sure why it didn’t immediately occur to me that I could write for children too; I’d certainly read enough books to him. Eventually I did show them to my agent and she shopped them around, unfortunately as picture books, which at the time I didn’t understand were the pinnacle of the genre. But they were eventually bought as a collection of short stories for emerging readers, and published by Orca in 2007. I’ve now published more than twenty books for kids.

Over the years I’ve turned into a bit of a proselytizer for kidlit, trying to get other authors to come over to the sunny side. Here’s why I love it:

Firstly, as a tragic-comic writer, I get to have fun with my purely comic side.

Secondly, there are so many forms to challenge yourself with: picture books, chapter books, middle-grade, young adult (YA), graphic novels, novels-in-verse. I’ve tried them all. The only form I disliked was YA, which didn’t exist when I was a young adult and therefore seems redundant to me.

Thirdly, unlike with literary fiction, kidlit actually sells. Both public and school libraries buy it. People who wouldn’t buy an adult novel if you came at them with a hot poker will buy a book for their child or grandchild. There is still a robust reviewing culture supporting all this. And, get this: your book keeps on going! It’s not dead in three months! People keep reproducing and those kids need something to read. That first book of mine, I, Bruno, which sells for $6.99, is still going strong. Years after publishing it, I still get modest cheques twice a year.

Fourthly, children’s editors are supremely talented, kind, and optimistic, unlike their depressed and overworked counterparts in literary fiction. I have a particularly wonderful relationship with Groundwood, the kidlit arm of Anansi. Rather than rejecting something that’s not working yet, my editor Shelley Tanaka will say in the kindest tone, “We don’t think it’s quite ready to contract yet.” I haven’t burned a bridge by showing something too early. This gives me a sense of safety and, because I feel safe, I’m able to risk more in the stories I tell and experiment with new forms.

Fifthly, many children’s books are illustrated, so you get to see an artist’s version of your story. I can’t express how much delight this brings me.

Sixthly, because of its simplicity—which is why it’s so difficult to write for kids—writing for kids has helped my adult writing immeasurably. I doubt I would have come up with Ellen McGinty* if kidlit hadn’t taught me the absolute necessity of an active protagonist who makes and solves her problems on her own.

Finally, I love children. I think they are the world’s most important people. If the books we read in childhood stay with us all our lives, then writing for children is an honour.

*Ellen in Pieces, 2014.

Caroline Adderson (Jessica Wittman)

Caroline Adderson is the award-winning author of five novels, two collections of short stories, as well as many books for young readers. She teaches in the Writing and Publishing Program at SFU and is the program director of the Writing Studio at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

John Metcalf is senior fiction editor at Biblioasis and has edited more than two hundred books. He is also the author of more than a dozen works of fiction and nonfiction.

Excerpted from Off the Record edited by John Metcalf, featuring stories by and interviews with Caroline Adderson, Kristyn Dunnion, Cynthia Flood, Shaena Lambert, Elise Levine, and Kathy Page. Interviews copyright © John Metcalf, 2023. Excerpted with permission by Biblioasis. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

By: Caroline Adderson, John Metcalfe

October 25th, 2023

12:46 pm

Category: Excerpt, Writing Life

Issue Date: October 2023

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