CANSCAIP's Karen Krossing: Why I write for kids
The president of CANSCAIP—The Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers—on her memories of Dr. Seuss books, playing with words, and childhood.
Seusstivus on Canada Writes is all about how children's authors play with language. Why is it important to be creative with words when writing for kids?
It’s important for any author to play with words, thread them together in different ways, explore their hidden potential. A perfectly crafted string of words can inspire us, make us laugh, bring us to tears, help us understand the world. Playing with words helps authors to discover gorgeous new combinations.
What's your own first memory of Dr. Seuss?
I can remember snuggling next to my mother for bedtime readings of Dr. Seuss books like Horton Hears a Who! and Green Eggs and Ham. Even though I had every word memorized, his rhythm and sense of fun pulled me back to his books over and over again.
You're the president of CANSCAIP—the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. How did you get involved with the organization?
I first discovered CANSCAIP in the late 1980s, when I worked as an editor for an educational book company. I was sent to a CANSCAIP conference to learn more about the industry and scout for talent. I had no idea what to expect, although I was excited by the workshops in writing poetry for children, publishing trends, and so on. What I found at the conference, besides insightful workshops by informed professionals, was an incredible sense of community. I was thrilled by the connections I made that day, and writing fiction became a closer reality as a result.
What role does CANSCAIP play for children’s writers in Canada?
CANSCAIP is a central force in the professional development, promotion, and celebration of Canadian children’s authors, illustrators, and performers and their work. Volunteers organize three conferences across Canada as well as regional meetings, publish the quarterly CANSCAIP NEWS with articles about craft and profiles of creators, and maintain a website to promote members. In a solitary profession, connection with like-minded creators is invaluable.
How and when did you know you wanted to write for children and young adults?
I write about the characters who pester me to share their stories. For some reason, these characters are most often kids and teens. So I never set out to write for children and young adults, but I’m glad I do. Childhood is an exciting time, rich with possibility and ripe with the kind of conflict that breeds tremendous stories.
What is it about the genre that compels you as a writer?
Children’s literature encompasses a wide range of genres—from picture books and non-fiction to young-adult titles and graphic novels. What compels me to both read and write within this field is the sense of wonder, playfulness, and the depth of meaning in the literature.
What specific challenges do children’s authors face?
Child readers are honest. If they don’t like a book, they’ll simply stop reading it. Authors for children must write a compelling first sentence that captures readers’ attention instantly. Then they must entice readers to turn each page until they finish the story, breathless and ready for more.
What's the most important consideration when writing for young people?
Don’t write down to kids. Young readers are open-minded, imaginative, and unflinching. Since children and teens face both the horrors and joys of this world, they need the full spectrum of their experiences reflected in their literature.
What's the biggest mistake that fledgling children’s authors tend to make?
Writing for children is not about teaching a lesson or sending a message. Some beginning writers forget that children devour books where story comes first, where characters leap off the pages and come to life before their eyes. I coach beginning writers to get to know their characters better than they know their family and friends. Well-developed characters will guide the author through the story.
Karen Krossing is addicted to stories. She began to create her own stories when she was eight, and today she writes novels and short stories for children and teens. Karen also encour¬ages new writers through workshops for kids, teens, and adults. Her latest novel, titled The Yo-Yo Prophet, is about a yo-yoing street performer who thinks he can predict the future. She is currently the president of CANSCAIP.
Photo credit: Owen Captures