Monday, May 4, 2015

Megan: What Would Judy Do?

There are a lot of unwritten (sometimes unspoken) rules when writing for children. Lately one of the most pernicious is that if you want your book to have "universal" appeal, it should be about boys, or at least feature a significant boy character. And forget anything girly. Princesses, no way. Pink cover, that's out, too, if you want to reach both boys and girls.

At least that's the conventional wisdom.

So over a year ago when I found myself sitting in the library writing a scene about Ruth, the main character of what would become The Friendship Riddle, going on a mortifying bra shopping trip with her mother, I didn't think it would stay in. I was working at a middle school at the time and trying to write the most honest version of 6th grade that I could. Bras and who needs them or doesn't had already received some attention in the story, but I figured that's where it would end. The bra-shopping scence felt almost like an exercise, which was very freeing.

But then the scene turned out really well. Not only was it honest, but it also moved the plot forward and deepened the characterization. That question of universality was knocking around in my head, especially since the rest of the cast of chracters was made up mostly of boys. As I considered whether to keep or cut, I asked myself, "What would Judy Blume do?" thinking of how my fifth grade friends and I passed around Are You There God, It's Me Margaret. That novel was honest about our changing bodies in a way that we could find no where else. So I kept the scene. Maybe it will make boys uncomfortable. But I think to make that assumption doesn't give boys much credit.

I used to run a middle book club with mostly boy members. One of our books was Small Persons With Wings by Ellen Booraem. It's a book about fairies. There's some boy-girl stuff. And some girl puberty stuff. The cover has sparkles. The boys didn't bat an eye. They read the book and discussed it with the same enthusiasm of all our other titles.

No one book is for every reader, but dictating your writing based on broad assumptions about boys, girls, and "universality" is a recipe for stale writing. Instead, try asking, "What would Judy do?" and follow her lead to honest and authentic writing.



P.S. The Friendship Riddle is out tomorrow and you can see for yourself how it all turned out.

2 comments:

  1. I love this post Megan. We do our readers...both boys and girls... a disservice by thinking only certain kinds of things or topics will appeal to each. I think it's important to let each child decide for him or herself what constitutes a "good" book.

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  2. Love the idea of asking "What would Judy do"? We can each plug in our own writing hero/ine and keep that question at the ready.

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