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Sara O'Leary: Making it up

In honour of the December 25 broadcast of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" with WireTap's Jonathan Goldstein, we're devoting ourselves to Canadian children's authors and other Seussian surprises here at Canada Writes.

Here, the author of the beloved "Henry" series argues the value of making children's stories "more than true."

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"Here's the thing about writing for very young readers: you can make it up.  

Now obviously, all writing is making things up. That's what we do all day long. When guests come to my house and look around and wonder why the picture frames haven't been dusted and why there's no pie in the oven and think to themselves: What does she do all day long? then clearly the answer is: I make things up.

But when you make things up for children the advantage is that so much is new to them that a few more new words or ideas are not going to trouble them in the least. When my son was about five one of his very favourite books was the terribly funny That's Not Funny by Adrian Johnson. The book is about the word "schadenfreude," which may be a novel concept even to some readers over the age of five. But it turned out to be just the word he needed, just as at other times he may have needed zizzer-zazzer-zuzz or heffalump or galumphing.  

My favourite review of one of my books is by someone (a grown-up) who basically said: "Not a word of this book is true." Well, precisely! Because in making up stories for children I am hoping to tell stories that are more than true. I like to think of that as my job."  

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Sara O'Leary is a playwright, fiction writer, and literary journalist. Sara is the author of the "Henry" series for children: When I Was Small, When You Were Small and Where You Came From. She teaches Writing for Children and Screenwriting at Concordia University in Montreal.

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