There are few novels that can be engaging for both a child and an adult. I am interested in writing fiction for children and young adults, so I’ve decided to review some of my favourite examples of children’s literature, and explore why I still enjoy them.
Since I was about 11 years old, Thief by Malorie Blackman has been one of my favourite books. It explores themes including friendship, bullying, peer pressure, consequences and family.
Thief tells the story of 12-year-old Lydia who is unfairly accused of stealing a School Trophy. Lydia then runs away to the moors where she gets caught in a violent storm, transporting her into the future. The story depicts a potential dystopian future, in which everything rides on a single decision from the past.
Malorie Blackman is extremely well-known for her realistic and gripping approach to modern day literature for children and young adults.
Things Thief has taught me :
– In children’s fiction things don’t always have to ‘work out’.
Lydia doesn’t stop facing opposition up until the last chapter, which shows that children’s fiction does not have to be fluffy. It can deal with complex, emotional and difficult topics.
– Simplicity is key if a story is to deal with such topics effectively and still be relatable to children.
This novel is so effortless to read, proving it is better to write simply and with clarity, than to write in a complex or overly poetic manner.
– Simplifying is not a matter of dumbing down.
Although the storyline is complex and emotive, the clarity and simplicity in the presentation helps the reader to remain completely engaged, and not get confused, in the words and worlds of the characters.
– The importance of avoiding excessively complicated speech tags.
Rarely in the novel are any other tags used besides ‘said’, ‘asked’, ‘replied’ or ‘urged’. There is little need for complex tags to be used, as simpler tags help the dialogue flow naturally.
– Choose a suitable perspective.
The novel is written in Third Person Limited perspective, which allows the reader to gain a deep insight into the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings, as well as revealing how these fit into the context of the story as a whole.
– Don’t get reckless with descriptions.
Description is very important, specifically in children’s fiction, but it can sometimes be overbearing. Thief features examples of simple and powerful description, such as “Her eyes showed that what she looked like outside was just a reflection of what she was inside – as cold and hard as permafrost.” Simple imagery is often better description than drawn-out, wordy paragraphs.
– Children tend to be extremely perceptive.
The art in writing a good piece of children’s fiction is in being able to capture and represent the world from their perspective. With children’s fiction it is not just about having a great idea. It is how you deliver the story; finding the balance between fast paced action scenes and emotive personal scenes that will allow children to remain engaged from beginning to end. Thief is 228 pages long, yet manages to entertain and engage a young (and slightly older) readership throughout.
– The good ol’ Twist still works.
Towards the end of the novel, Lydia believes that the reason she was brought to the future was to stop her younger brother from becoming a Tyrant. Yet only a short while later she has an epiphany that the actual Tyrant is herself. This technique is successful as it gets the reader believing one outcome, only to throw in another, and then reveal that neither is quite what was expected.
– A character’s complexity can make them relatable.
The complexity of Lydia vs old Lydia is a character dynamic that I find intriguing. As Lydia’s brother (Old Daniel) states, “Things happen which change us – all of us” . We often don’t know how decisions will impact us, and being faced with that reality – especially if the outcome is not what was expected – serves to convict the character, and the reader. This subconsciously delivers a moral ethos.
The techniques used in Thief are useful in capturing the imagination of a child, by creating characters and situations that are, to some extent, relatable. Thief takes a simple and common fear of being forced into doing something you don’t want to, mixes it with running away from home and explores the wildest possible outcomes and dangers. It reveals how people can become bitter because of childhood incidents, and serves as a reminder to stop holding grudges, start forgiving and move on.
It was enthralling as a child, and still suitably engaging as a an adult (Big Kid). I consider it a good read at any age.