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Writing for kids: How tough can it be?

Book reviews: Warm Up by Sara Leach and Music is for Everyone by Jill Barber



Whistler hosts the 2014 Writers Festival from Oct. 17 to 19. Pique is running reviews of books by attending authors. For information and tickets: www.whistlerwritersfest.com.

How often have you heard or thought, "I could write a book for kids, how tough could it be?" Well, when you have to deliver the story in a 32-page picture book or a 118-page mid-grade novel, each word counts and needs to work hard for the story, and that's not easy. Kids are smart, discerning readers and they require the same satisfaction in their reading material as adults do.

That is; a variety of genuine characters who engage the reader in a page-turning plot, that takes place in an interesting setting, and when the last page is turned, leaves the reader wanting more.

Sara Leach is the author of several picture books and mid-grade novels, and she has accomplished just that.

In her latest book, Warm Up, Leach has drawn from her past. She spent long days at the ballet studio and lined up in sequined costumes, anxious to perform. Sara's love of dance is captured beautifully in Warm Up as the young dancers struggle with team rivalry, feelings of being left out and not being good enough.

These themes are so relatable for children as they begin to participate in teams of all kinds and are faced with the complexity of balancing commitment and friendships. In Jasmine, Leach has portrayed a believable protagonist who wonders if she still loves dance and if the work involved is really worth it.

The young dancer is a compelling narrator who challenges herself, her fellow dancers and her teacher to be the best they can be. The story has added depth with the inclusion of Jasmine's Russian grandmother who inspires her with stories of her own past and the intrigue of Jasmine's relationship with her friend Will.

Warm Up describes the mechanics of dancing, how to improve and the level of commitment involved. It is a truly engaging novel for dancers and non-dancers alike.

As a songwriter and author, Jill Barber is aware that word choice is important when delivering meaning. Barber's latest picture book, Music is for Everyone, is only 300 words and when you keep in mind an adult is reading aloud, the task of creating an engaging story becomes even more difficult.

In Music is for Everyone, the rhythm and rhyme just snap and adults will enjoy the musical tour from hip hop to country and from folk to reggae. Studies have linked music and rhyme to the acquisition of pre-reading skills and parents will find themselves tapping the cadence of the words and bobbing their heads in time to the beat.

Writing for children and youth is not easy. Unfortunately writers are often asked when they are going to write real books — as in adult books.

It is authors like Sara Leach and Jill Barber that we can thank when our children grow up to be adult readers. They engage us, make us fall in love with reading and the written word. They are writing real books, and I, for one, am very grateful.

As part of the 2014 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Sara Leach will present "Writing for Young Readers" at the Fairmont Chateau on Oct. 18 at 8:30 a.m., and "Writing Workshop for Young Writers" on October 18th, at the Whistler Public Library (must be under 19 to attend). Jill Barber will present "Music is for Everyone" Oct. 17 at 4 p.m. at the Whistler Public Library. Both library events are free.

Libby McKeever is a member of the Vicious Circle. She is a keen recreational writer of youth literature and the Youth Services Librarian at the Whistler Public Library.

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