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Author Adrienne Kress On How To Write Kids’ Lit

Adrienne Kress is an actor, playwright and author of the award-winning and internationally published children’s novels Alex and the Ironic Gentleman & Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, which was shortlisted for the Audie, Red Cedar and Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards. She has also published two YA novels: Outcast, her quirky paranormal romance, and the Steampunk adventure The Friday Society.

She’s launching a brand new book, The Explorers: The Door In The Alley, this month.

SDTC: Did you always want to write children’s books?

AK: I always enjoyed writing and reading children’s books, but it took a little while before the two came together. I started off writing as a hobby. I’d write all kinds of stories – detective stories, pirate adventures, etc. Then I started writing plays that I produced and directed. I was really focused on that when I came up with the idea for Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. I’d been reading a lot of children’s books right around then, and I realized just how much I loved them. And, because of the large number I’d read, I felt like I had a good insight into what made them work. That’s when I decided to give writing for children a shot.

What are the biggest challenges in writing for kids?

There are unique challenges for every age. While subject matter, appropriate language and length need to be taken into consideration in children’s books, bigger challenges are things like setting the right tone, not being condescending and, very importantly to me, creating honest and truthful young characters.

There are advantages, too, of course. For me, one advantage is being able to write with a humour and absurdity that my readership fully embraces. I also like writing for an audience who will tell you what they think. If they don’t like a book, they won’t finish it. It’s nice to know that when a kid likes your book, they like your book.

What was your favourite book when you were a kid?

Oh man, so many. But I suppose I’ll say The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

What were your inspirations/influences for The Explorers: The Door in the Alley? (I must admit that, in a skim of the summary, The Goonies, The Neverending Story and Narnia came to mind.)

Those all work! I enjoy adventure stories absolutely. Then there are the classics like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, as well as The Phantom Tollbooth as mentioned above. I also have a huge soft spot for The Wind in the Willows. I do have grown-up influences as well, and the biggest one would be Douglas Adams. His writing definitely influenced my love of absurdity in literature.

What has writing for kids taught you about yourself as an author?

It has taught me how to be more precise and concise (though I occasionally still write on the long side). It has also taught me how much I love humour. I always thought, “Well, everyone enjoys a good laugh,” but I didn’t realize how important it is – how fundamental it is in how I look at the world – until I started writing these books.

Most of all, it has taught me how important hope is. Children’s books can go to some dark and scary places, can address some pretty big and complicated issues, but they always end on a note of hope. And that’s very special.

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