Recently I was asked to take on an editing job, freelance, for a children’s book. I had no problem with it being a children’s book–I think kids’ books are great things, and the more of them children have, the better off they are! Now, this particular job was not a high-paying one, but supposedly a simple moderate-level editing job, comprising both copyediting and some minor corrections of grammar, usage, etc, of a mix of short poems and very short stories. No sweat.
However, once I received the manuscript and spent some time with it, I understood why the two previous editors who had this particular gig had dropped it. (Gee, why didn’t I consider this before?!) The writing was poor, the poetry was inconsistent, the stories tended to wander all over the landscape and most of the time ended up far from any particular denouement.
This was not an editing job. This was a rewriting job, at the very least. I emailed the person who had commissioned me for the job (luckily, she was not the author) and informed her of my issues with the manuscript. It would, I told her, take much more than moderate editing. It would require substantive editing and rewriting, and would involve much more time than she was willing to pay me to do. I gave her my feedback on the quality of the writing, and told her that I honestly didn’t think she would be able to find anyone competent to do the job for the amount she was budgeted to pay. The person who commissioned me owns a pay-to-publish company, by the way, and this book was never intended for the open market—only for the author’s grandchildren. I can understand having a book published for your grandchildren, something to leave behind. Still….
The publisher was not happy with me, perhaps understandably, but here are a couple of comments that threw me for a loop: “I disagree with your description of [AUTHOR'S] work. I don’t think it’s as bad as you describe. These are stories for children, not adults, and that makes a big difference in what is acceptable.”
I’m sorry, but that is wrong, wrong, WRONG.
Maybe this author didn’t intend to have the book published in order to get it onto the shelves of Barnes & Noble, but that doesn’t mean that kids’ literature should have lower standards for grammar, usage, quality of story, logic, and construction. Children deserve to have well-written books just as much as adults do. Why would anyone think otherwise? The words read by kids, the stories and poems consumed by their minds, help to form their concepts of reality and how to deal with the world around them—especially when these words come in the form of poems and stories written by a grandparent!
Badly-written books leave a nasty taste in the minds of those who read them. Children especially don’t need to have poorly-written dreck thrown at them. Do we want to turn off our kids from reading? Do we want them to get the idea when they are young, that all books are poorly written?
But let me step back to the original concept that bothered me: Kids’ books are not required to meet the same sort of standards as adults. I will agree that children’s books have a different set of parameters: different vocabulary, shorter sentences, etc. But a book written for ANY reader should:
- have good sentence construction and word usage
- have a consistent voice
- have stories that have recognizable and distinct beginnings, middles, and endings
- NOT make the reader grimace at the poor choices of words or the way words are used
- not confuse the reader with sentences that wander all over the place and end up going nowhere
If you think that kids’ books don’t have to be written well, tell that to J.K. Rowling, Theodore Geisel, Louisa May Alcott, Sir James Barrie, L. Frank Baum, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Fred Gipson, E. B. White…. I don’t have room or time to list more. The point is, children’s literature is not where we try to pass off the stories and writing that are not good enough for adults. Indeed, probably the writing should be better: more concise, tighter, more creative use of words, more inventive. Kids’ minds are growing—they don’t need literary junk.
Tell me: would you say that children don’t need food that is up to the same standards as their parents? What about the things they drink? I’m sure you wouldn’t prepare food for children that was missing key ingredients, or give them chicken that was only “mostly” cooked, let them drink milk that was only a “little spoiled,” or feed them vegetables that are “pretty clean.” You’d want the best possible quality for them, even if the grocer told you that such things were OK for children. ”Standards are different for kids. They don’t need the same quality.” Do you believe that?
Stories and poems read by a child are the food and drink of the child’s mind. Don’t try to tell me that standards of quality are lower for a child—especially not if you are a publisher.