Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Child's Brain

Do you write children's fiction or young adult? How do you gauge the reading level of your books. Word has a readability statistics option under your spelling and grammar settings. It gauges your document by length of sentence. So if you write in short simple sentences, you probably write for kids. Last time I had the patience to check one of my books, my readability was eighth grade, which puts my work firmly in the middle of Young Adult. However, I don't market it that way. Frankly, this is what I like to read. The writing isn't too long and flowery, nor is it too short and choppy.

Lately I've run across a couple books obviously written for younger people. I don't mind these books either, if they are well written. The readability statistics will only gauge by length of sentence, it does not judge by any kind of content. It merely counts words per sentence and calculates an average length. If you ask me, it's the content that matters, and in my opinion, it matters a lot. Kids are smart. They are smarter than people like to give them credit for, and we as writers, while not teachers per se, talking down to children is in really bad form.

A while back, I read a children's book and even posted a scathing review here. Assuming children cannot follow logic or spot holes in stories is only a reflection on the writer. There doesn't need to be loads of detail in a children's book, but inconsistent logic will only confuse them, and a confused young reader may not pick up the next book.

I bought a trilogy a while back and recently finished the first book. The gist of this story was 'rescue the orphans at an orphanage from a very wicked witch'. To accomplish this, there needed to be a reason to go there. To solve this issue, the writer put an old man there. He had a disagreement with the witch (who wasn't a known witch yet) so he left, or was thrown out. He flew away high overhead many miles, wishing he could save those children, and yet he did nothing of the sort until he crossed paths with another kid with a dog. This kid had found a robot built by the old man, but apparently thanks to the witch, they had become separated.

So, now that these four characters were united or reunited, they were now equipped to go rescue those kids. So off they go across danger-riddled countryside on foot, and by raft, choosing a path seen by the old man on his previous flight over. So if he could fly before, why can't he fly now? Where is his flying machine if it wasn't this robot, which in the very beginning, was small enough for him to carry in his arms, but later can't be moved unless it's moving under it's own power.  hmmmmm

Along the way they run across another character, an escapee from the orphanage. Winter is coming and she is cold, and yet her only possession is a jar with a firefly. Only now are we being introduced to the idea that they might have packed for this journey, because the boy produces a blanket to help the girl. If these guys were equipped for a days long journey, they would both have had packs they could barely carry, and now that another member joined them, they would be short on blankets at the very least. And no, the robot wasn't carrying anything; he was their look-out.

Frequently along the way, it was difficult to tell which person was the old man and which was the boy. Their behavior was inconsistent. You would expect the boy to be impetuous and maybe rude while the old man was the caution in the mix; this happened but it happened the other way around too.

Now the end. Not too bad really, they succeeded in sorting out the witch and rescuing the kids, but then the old man sends the girl with the rest of the kids while he takes the boy by another route. There was fairly good reason for this, but since no one is really all that familiar with the witch's magic, I thought it was illogical for them to split up. Who sends a bunch of kids off through dangerous country, for a days or maybe weeks long hike with nothing and no protection. I would see the old man, the dog, and the robot as the only protection they had. They didn't even have the blankets from the orphanage. Oh but apparently the old man had stashed enough food for them in the barn last time he was there.

I didn't bother to read the next two books. There are better books out there.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm getting old and impatient. Maybe I try too hard to weave a tight and logical tapestry. Maybe I just do too much editing. I think this whole book would have been much better if it was linear rather than circular. They are traveling along and find out that kids at the orphanage need to be rescued. They reach the house and have to figure out how to defeat the witch. But no, the old man knew it all but he couldn't do anything until he joined forces with a kids. I won't even mention the dog.

Please do me and young readers everywhere a favor. Assume kids of all ages are smart. It makes a difference.



William Kendall said...

It's certainly not a genre I write in, but I've read some children's lit that kind of read like it was assuming the reader wasn't that bright, so I can relate.

Willow Drake said...

It sounds like the writer didn't do an outline and plot out the story. Either that or he doesn't go back to make sure he is consistent. I have that problem sometimes when I'm writing Ember because she started as a round robin and has developed in bits and pieces over several years. Now that I'm writing again and have no outline, she just goes where the next thought process takes her, I am constantly going back and referencing so that I don't throw my readers (which may only be you, lol).

You should write a "how to write" book. You make it look so easy.