The spotlight series brings to light authors’ approaches to writing for young readers and the secrets to their success. Today we feature award-winning author Judith Graves, who has multiple young adult novels and short stories published with Leap Books, Orca Book Publishers, Compass Press, and, under the pen name, Judith Tewes, is also published with Bloomsbury Spark. In addition, Judith is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright, writes freelance articles for literary magazines, and facilitates writing workshops for both adults and young adults.
Welcome to Kidliterati, Judith.
Thank you for having me.
Among your many talents, you’re also a librarian, guardian to the gates of knowledge. What do you love most about being a librarian?
Actually, I’m a library technician, which, here in Canada, is a two-year college program rather than what an official “Librarian” requires: a four-year undergrad degree, plus a two-year Masters of Library Science. But to the average library patron, it’s easy to lump us all together as librarians / library staff. Sorry to get all nerdy on you. Lol. What do I love the most? Talking up books with anyone who walks through the library doors.
Can you tell us a little about the library you work in? The ages of the children you help find awesome books?
I run an elementary school library with a population of around 400 students from preschool to grade 6.
What’s flying off the shelves?
Depends on the grade level but in terms of format, graphic novels are a hit universally.
What genres do you find middle graders drawn to?
I’m always hearing do you have more books about monsters? Which is pleasing to my paranormal-fiction-writing self. Historical fiction told with an edge or jam packed with action is also in high demand. Any of the funny, “diary” format titles: Dear Dumb Diary, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries... Oh, and on-going middle-grade pleasers, are the drawing and joke books.
Creative non-fiction titles are a big hit. By this I mean there is more of a storytelling or engaging narrative approach to the information. Historical events, people, nature and concepts – this style really brings non-fiction to life. Examples: Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy and the Disgusting Critters series by Elise Gravel.
Nothing really. The beauty of MG fiction is that kids grow up and move on, and there’s always a new crop of readers. In the twenty or so years I’ve worked in libraries, I’ve seen titles released, rebranded, released again, and in different formats. Take the Babysitters Club for example, this series has been updated several times and made available in graphic novels.
How important are book covers?
Huge. I have to really push some of the older (but still outstanding!) standards, as the covers may be unattractive to today’s highly visual readers. I’m often purchasing newer editions (with updated covers) as they become available.
Are there any specific strategies you use to get boys reading? Do you find you have to do this?
The key to getting any reluctant reader to willingly open a book is to discover topics they’re genuinely interested in. That’s the gate that needs to be opened before they’ll invest time in a book. A lot of boys seem to gravitate toward informational texts. They love details from the battlefield, seeing the working parts of complex machines, sports statistics, charts, maps, diagrams, and photographs. This is where creative non-fiction can bridge the gap by providing the information they want with an entertaining narrative.
What do you wish you saw more of on the shelves?
My books! lol
What are your top book recommendations?
Because I’m Canadian and I love the talent in this country, I’m going to suggest the Seven series and the Secrets series from Orca Book Publishers, and for a fun read aloud for any age group: The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak
When you’re not helping children explore the universe, what else do you do for fun?
My husband and I go to a ton of movies, I play bass in a folk-rock band, sing in a choir, and we hang out with our three crazy labs.
Not only is Judith Graves, a librarian (technician), she’s also an author, an award-winning screenwriter, and an editor who writes in several genres and age groups.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in writing for kids?
Writing for children and young adults can be challenging, but the rewards are great – there’s nothing quite like doing an author visit and having a gaggle of kids surround you and pepper you with questions before they have to go to their next class. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
And, in your opinion, what do you find is the best way for writers to reach our kidlit readers?
A few suggestions:
Write stories with characters they can relate to.
Don’t insult their intelligence.
Inspire them to investigate further.
And then write some more.
Thank you so much, Judith, for sharing your wealth of knowledge with the kidlit community! You can follow Judith Graves on her Blog, Twitter or Facebook to learn more about her books and what’s she’s writing next.