During the most difficult parts of the writing process, it can be challenging to remember why we do what we do. Between plotting and outlining and writing, I’ve found that writers (including me!) get bogged down in craft and mechanics rather than the heart of what we do: readers. Sometimes we get so caught up in the writing itself that we forget who we’re writing for–so I interviewed a twelve-year-old on what makes reading special to him.
When in doubt, ask a reader!
The first question I asked Elliot was why he liked reading. He told me that he loved getting to experience being a character, someone different from him, and watching how they solve their problems in their own way.
Both at Elliot’s age and now, at 24, I feel the same way. Escaping into someone else’s life, especially someone in a fantasy book–Elliot’s favorite genre–can be exhilarating. Who wouldn’t want to be a demigod, or a pirate, or a dragonrider for a day? While following a character on an adventure, readers can enjoy the ups and downs of a life completely different from their own from the safety of their couch. But even in a fantasy setting, young readers can experience problem solving in a way that gives them experience to bring into their own lives, no matter how different.
What is a “good book?”
For Elliot, a “good book” is one that helps him experience how the characters are feeling in a way that is enjoyable to read. He doesn’t like when books have plot holes, and it’s important to him that each book is the best book it can be. In his words, “you have to fill the plot holes with cement!”
When asked about his favorite book, Elliot refused to name one, or even a few–there were just too many to crown a favorite. But the most recent books he’d read (and reread, sometimes more than a few times) were the The Sun and the Star by Rick Riordan and all the others in the series leading up to it. I was thrilled to hear that the Percy Jackson series was still a favorite for twelve-year-olds today–and I’ll take this as my sign to reread the series, including the new additions, asap.
Elliot also mentioned enjoying Gordon Korman, an author I remember fondly for books like Swindle and the second book in The 39 Clues series: one of my absolute favorites when I was 12! I remember reading the books over each time a new one came out, eager to rejoin the clue hunt. I was never a big re-reader, so this was saying something.
Elliot, on the other hand, often chooses to reread the books he loves most to return to the positive feelings they left him with, but also because it can be hard to find new books when it seems like you’ve read them all.
As a voracious reader like Elliot, I remember strolling the stacks of my local library’s YA section over and over, trying desperately to find a new spine that spoke to me at that age. Especially for fantasy readers, it’s frustrating when that perfect next book just doesn’t seem to exist. Even as an adult who can, theoretically, click on any title in my Libby app and not worry if the content will be age-appropriate, I still do the virtual version of that library aisle pacing.
As a writer, it’s my job to help fill that gap, hopefully providing books for readers like Elliot to enjoy–and reread–for years to come. Speaking with Elliot solidified my love for children’s and YA literature in particular, especially when it came to the books we’d both enjoyed, despite the twelve years between us. It’s amazing how much the books we love at his age stick with us for the rest of our lives.
Readers Know Best
Listening to Elliot speak about his love for books brought me right back to the summers I spent reading in my hammock in the morning and writing late into the night. The young writer I was then would be proud of the writer I’ve become now, but she would want me to remember why I started in the first place, a point that Elliot brought up when I asked him what he, a young reader, wanted me to know as someone who is writing for people his age. He reminded me that, while I should write for others to enjoy, I need to also write what I would have wanted to read because, at heart, I’m writing for myself at that age, too.
To read more of my musings on YA and children’s books, check out: