The Next Chapter

Why Polly Horvath loves writing children's books

The Night Garden author talks about how she's been writing for children ever since she was young.
Polly Horvath is the award-winning author of several children's books, including The Night Garden. (Courtesy of Polly Horvath/PRH Canada Young Readers)

Name a children's literary award and Polly Horvath has probably won it. In addition to the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People, which recognizes a children's book author's entire body of work, and the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, which is for the best Canadian children's book published in a given year, she's the only Canadian to have a book named a Newbery Honor Book.

Horvath's latest novel is called The Night Garden and it features an orphan adopted as a baby who grows up on a farm during the Second World War on Vancouver Island.

This interview originally aired on Nov. 13, 2017.

Learning the business of writing from Mom

"My mother wrote picture books. She also read to us what, nowadays, people would think is very inappropriate stuff. She would read us these long, tragic poems and ballads when we were five years old. People were always drowning and dying in these stories. We picked up on a lot of beautiful words and rhythms at an early age. I learned how to package manuscripts and send them out for her — I learned you didn't give away your work, you sold it."     

Finding an audience

"In The Night Garden, the garden grants one wish which cannot be undone. There are terrific consequences to this. I think it's an extension of the idea that everything you do creates unforeseen consequences and even good intentions lead to terrible consequences. I love children's books. I love revisiting the ones I read as a kid. I desperately wanted to write for the age range that I was reading in, and I think I just got stuck there. I would love to write an adult book with a very young protagonist, but aimed at an older audience. I'm in this no-man's-land between adults and children."     

The power of children's books

"What children's literature does is remove a protective barrier between readers and the rest of the world, allowing them explore the world in a different way. It makes the child a person in their own right, which makes it easier to write things for them to discover."

Polly Horvath's comments have been edited and condensed.