The New York Times bestselling author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the Ivy and Bean series, Annie Barrows is part of the Early Literature Author Panel on Monday, April 30, at the IRA Annual Convention in Chicago. She shares her blinding moments of realization and the jewel-laden landscape of her imagination in this interview with Reading Today.
Reading Today: What got you interested in writing books for children and/or young adults?
Annie Barrows: When I left publishing to become a writer in 1997, I began by writing for adults. But very soon afterwards, my house started to fill up with children, and in short order, I was spending all my time with kids, I was talking only to kids, I was reading only kids’ books—and I was fascinated. Grownups, on the other hand, began to seem rather pallid and strange. They were interested in terrible things like real estate, for example. I had less and less in common with them, and I couldn’t think of a thing I could write for them that they would like.
Then I had a blinding moment of realization. Here’s what happened: when my older daughter turned seven, she ran out of things to read. Magic Tree House, check. Junie B. Jones, check. We went to the library and looked around and found—nothing! Or not much, anyway. I was appalled. This is terrible, I thought. This is a disgrace! Someone should get busy and make a book for seven year olds! Right this minute!
And then I thought: Wait a second. I’m a writer. I could do it.
So I did.
RT: What do consider your best book to date and why?
AB: My best book is always the one I just finished. The one I just finished is completely fabulous—perfect, in fact. It requires no editing, because every word is mined from the jewel-laden landscape of my imagination. My characters are adorable; my plotting is snare-drum tight; my sentences are symphonic; and my themes are radiantly clear while at the same time being liberating and provocative. My God! What a book!
And then I put it in a drawer for two weeks. When I take it out again, something awful has happened to it. It’s not perfect; it’s not even really good. It’s flawed, at best. My characters have become glib; the plot is okay, except for that weird part right before the end; my sentences are drearily similar; and what the heck is this book about?
Clearly, there’s something the matter with my drawer.
RT: What can attendees at IRA Chicago expect to hear from you?
AB: In general, I’m opposed to the idea that the reluctant reader needs curing, because it contravenes my basic unshakable belief that what kids want isn’t wrong. Who am I to say that a kid is wrong to dislike reading? Nobody goes around telling grownups they’re wrong if they don’t like sports or opera or cubist paintings. I want kids to read because I like reading, and I go about persuading them to join me in my pleasure the same way I’d go about persuading someone to listen to opera—hit the high points, make it vivid, tell a story—but I don’t think either of us is defective if it doesn’t take. I might think a kid who doesn’t read is boring, but there’s nothing wrong with him.
I don’t write in order to persuade kids to read; I write in order to give kids a good time. I don’t want them to do or be anything particular. I believe—rightly or wrongly, who knows?—that this is what makes the Ivy and Bean books especially appealing to kids who have been categorized as reluctant readers.
Visit www.anniebarrows.com for more information about Barrows, her books, "and some other stuff, too." Also read her article on Engage. For more information about the 2012 IRA Annual Convention in Chicago from April 29 to May 2, visit www.iraconvention.org.
Annie Barrows Will Be There…Will You?