That’s not enough, I am told. Your books have to teach. Since the audience consists of malleable minds, there has to be some sort of message, uplifting messages being best.
Okay, comes the response, you don’t need to be didactic, but there should be some underlying theme, something the kid takes away. Why? Because the audience consists of malleable minds, there has to be some sort of message, uplifting messages being best.
What if I just want to entertain?
Of course you can entertain. But these are kids. And they have malleable minds. . .
You get the drift. I call this the Books Are To Teach camp. Children’s books belong in the same category as self-help books, except with attractive pictures and a simpler vocabulary. Somehow, unlike a movie, if you hand kids a book, they have to learn something. They can’t just enjoy the story. No, there has to be a Message, like a portable schoolroom.
Tell me. Does any other fiction genre carry this burden?
Oh, I hear the response: “Adult fiction also has themes.” Yeah, I say, but first they are stories populated by interesting characters who do interesting things and make interesting choices. The best stories talk about being human, which raises themes, I suppose, but it's a good story first. And you know what? That’s what good children’s books do as well. Tell good stories.
And shouldn’t we use good stories to teach? I’m asked.
Sigh. Yes. But that’s a parent’s or teacher’s job. Always has been. You take something human and teach what makes it human, giving value to it. But that’s not the writer’s job. The writer’s job is to create a tale that talks about being human in an entertaining way. If you find something teach in it, terrific. It means I've described a human story in a meaty way. I'm honored. But it's not my job. I'm here to entertain.*
* I write for a general market. Before I'm told that the educational market requires more, please note that the educational market's audience isn't children but their teachers.