Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with Andrea Beaty. The transcript is divided into the following sections:
Raised on public television and books
Hi, I'm Andrea Beaty, and I am the author of Iggy Peck, Architect, Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, and a bunch of other books for kids.
Well, I was raised in a small town of 300 people in Southern Illinois, and there were six kids. Six kids. My dad was a coal miner. My mom stayed at home with us, though later she went on to get a degree. She was a historian by passion, and so our house as filled with books. We spent our days running through the fields. We were off traipsing about, you know, barefoot with our dogs and having adventures all day long, but at night we'd come home and PBS would be on, and we're like, "Yay!"
So we — I was really raised on public television and books because in our house we had more books in our house than in the entire town, and that includes the hymnals in the church and the books from the school. And then we would go to the library in the next town over once every week or two, which meant spending hours trying to find all the books that the kids had strewn everywhere. And books were a really
big part of our — my childhood because I always saw my mom reading so much, and my dad read the Bible, and he read newspapers and things, but Mom was really consumed with curiosity, and she was always pulled into a book.
And that example, you know, it showed how important it was. So my family was very silly. I am the least funny and interesting of all my siblings, who are hilarious. So we — I don't know where that comes from. My mom and dad — and they were lovely but not hilarious people, but they would often stand back and go, "I don't even know where these kids came from," (LAUGHS) so — "but here we have them." Our sport would be to make each other laugh so hard that we'd sort of fall down and beg for mercy, and I was usually the one on the ground going, "Stop, stop."
So we were like Uncle Fred in Rosie Revere, who, you know, falls over because he gets to laughing too hard. And so storytelling was a big part of that, not so much, like, you know, epic adventure stories, but jokes and, you know, over-dramatic tellings of the day's events.
From copy editor to writer
Well, you know, so I started out writing when I was about 30, so when I was a kid I had no idea that I wanted to be a writer. I read voraciously. I read Nancy Drew. I would, you know, take my Nancy Drew books and climb up in a tree and read them, and go up onto — we had a shed. I'd go back up on the shed or out into the cornfields and I'd read, and, you know, late at night I'd stay up all night reading when you should — you know, obviously you have school the next day, but I just loved getting sucked into books.
But I didn’t ever think about being a writer. When I got to high school, Cosmos was on PBS with Carl Sagan, and that really got me interested in science, so I started studying biology, and I studied biology and computer science in college, and when I graduated I became a computer geek at a software company and did that for a few years. And as part of the job, someone said, "Hey, why don't we make a newsletter? So would anybody like to do it?"
And I said, "Well, I'd like to do it. I've never done that before." So I became the editor of this very small technical, really boring little newsletter, but I got very serious about editing. So I read Strunk & White, and I practically read, you know, every book I could find on grammar and how to be a voracious copyeditor, really. And I was just fierce about it, so when I'd write an article that was 100 words, I'd prune it down to 20, and, you know, the content was boring, but it ends up, many years later when I had kids and was not employed anymore but was reading a lot of picture books, I started getting ideas and started writing them.
And those skills that I learned as a technical writer were incredibly helpful because when you write for kids, you have to be clear. You have to be concise. You have to get to the point because kids are not gonna stick around for a paragraph if you have not engaged them. They have things to do. They have many more interesting things to do than to read a book that's boring. So I'm always very, very conscious of that, and so that sort of fierce, direct approach to the story but also trying to make it engaging is just at the heart of writing.
Origins of Iggy Peck
So I wrote Iggy Peck, Architect because when my son was young, when he was, you know, two, three, four years old, he loved building things, so LEGOs, of course, but blocks, and, you know, he would take the soup cans out of the pantry and build towers with those, and we'd go to restaurants and he'd take those packages of jelly and make houses, which I thought was amazing. Well, you know, waitresses did not think that was so cool, and understandably. (LAUGHS) That's probably the last thing you want to see, is a kid touching all the jelly packs.
But I got to thinking, "Well, what if? What if there was a kid who wanted to be an architect? And the book just sort of showed up after that, and it's a rhyming book, and what I found with rhyme is that a book is either in rhyme or it's not in rhyme. I cannot make it prose if it comes to me in rhyme, and it's sort of like writing a song. And it's really like hearing a song through a wall where you can almost make out the words but you can't quite.
So you can kinda hear the rhythm, and you can kinda catch the odd word, and that's how a rhyming book sort of comes to me. Like, it's sort of just out of my reach, but the more I think about it, the more I start playing with the language, and then it just sort of — I can start hearing it and then writing it into the story, so that's where Iggy Peck came from. And so I wrote the book and found a publisher, Abram's Books for Young Readers.
Well, actually, it was at Dutton — my editor, Susan Van Metre was at Dutton at that point, and she loved it. I read it to her at a conference, and she loved it, and then she — soon as, you know, we decided to publish it then she moved, so that's why I'm at Abrams. That's business stuff, but she — Susan Van Metre than reached out to David Roberts in England. He's an illustrator in London, and she said, "Well, I'm thinking about David Roberts," and I really wasn't familiar with his art.
I had seen some of his pictures, which were very Edward Gorey-esque, and I do adore Edward Gorey, so I'm like, "Well, I can't quite visualize that, but sure. Yes. Absolutely. Whatever you think." And it ends up just being one of the greatest matches, I think, and the comment I get most, I — about Iggy Peck is how beautifully the art matches the words.
You know, he basically worked only from the text that's in Iggy Peck and returned this world that was unlike anything I could ever imagine and so much greater than anything I could ever attempt to do myself, and mostly this beautiful, beautiful classroom. This classroom is just the most beautifully, wildly diverse class, but I go to schools and I will present to kids, and I look into the audience, and it's those kids.
Discovering Rosie in the classroom
There's just this marvelous, marvelous array of kids, and, you know, so we looked at Iggy Peck, and I looked at those kids in this class, and for a long time we wanted to maybe write another book about Iggy, but, you know, that story was kind of told, and so I tried for a couple of years to come up with a new adventure, but I don't want to retry the same path. That's boring to me, and I think that's boring to readers. So eventually looked at this class and thought, "Well, what about these other kids?" And so Rosie Revere then was born from looking at this class.
And I finally looked, and I saw the little blonde girl whose hair swoops over her eyes, and I realized you never see both of her eyes. Every time you see her, her hair is hiding her face, and she's sitting there like, "Don't call on me." She wants to be invisible.
So I thought, "This girl is the shy kid, what's her story? You know, what else is going with her?" So I decided to write about her, and I made her an engineer. I'm from a science background, so it's very important to me, but I really made her an engineer because I wanted to see what kind of crazy things David Roberts would come up with because he had done such a marvelous job with Iggy Peck, with the diaper towers and the bridge at the end with the underwear on the top.
I mean, how do you beat that? There's underwear on a bridge. All bridges should have underwear, I think. So that's where Rosie came about, and he did this remarkable job, but the timing for that book, I'm so pleased that it has connected to readers because there is such push to have all kids in STEM and art, but to really help kids reach their strengths and their passions and open up new areas for them.
I'm glad that she connects to lots of girls who would never think about science, and so that makes me very proud. But with all of these stories, I set out to just write that kid's story.
Ada Twist, scientist
So again, I went through now two books looking for all the details to try to indicate who are these — you know, who are these kids?
And I noticed in Iggy Peck, Architect, when Iggy is designing the bridge and all the kids are working, there's one girl — and she's doing something super important, but she's standing there like this, and she's thinking. So she's standing sort of off to the side while everyone else is gathering shoelaces or sticks, or one girl's actually eating the lollipops in the basket for lunch.
So Ada, she sits and does this, and I thought, "This kid's a thinker. This kid is curious. She is trying to figure out, 'Okay, how do we make the best bridge? Why would it work if we do this? What kind of — what, why, when, where, how?' She's the kid who's curious."
And so that's where Ada Twist came from. Just — it's a book about absolute curiosity. So for all three of those stories, even though — so she ends up being a scientist, and Iggy's an architect, and Rosie is an engineer. I don't really approach them as exploring those careers, even though people think, "Oh, so you write about engineers," but I don't. I write about kids, and I write about their passions and being true to themselves and curiosity and perseverance and those kind of things because I think that's far more interesting, and it's far more universal.
It's an old trope in kid's books that you're supposed to always have — the kid character is always supposed to change and grow in some big way, and I've noticed that while I think that does happen for Rosie, because she learns to sort of overcome some of her fear of failure, mostly in my books everyone else has to change (LAUGHS). So when I look at Doctor Ted and Artist Ted and Firefighter Ted, in those stories, you know, Ted is a kid who is just — he's oblivious to other people, but he's so tuned into what he wants to do and not in a spoiled brat way.
But he really imagines himself as a doctor, and so he goes through his day being a doctor, and he wreaks havoc wherever he goes, and he gets in big trouble for it, but he's still — he's not doing it to be mean. He's not doing it to be spiteful. He's doing it because in his mind, he is exploring the world in the way he knows how. And I see kids like that all the time, and the same is true for Iggy. Iggy is pretty oblivious to what's going on, but he is busy in his head figuring things out.
You know, he has a passion. He has a drive, and he understands that, and he has mad talent. He's brilliant, but it doesn't always fit into the box where you need to sit here right now and do this thing, and that kid — there's so many kids like that, and I think they struggle in traditional education, but these kids, oh, my gosh. When they get the chance to really shine, when they get the chance to explore the things that they love, oh, they are the ones who change the world.
So keeping those passions alive for kids, keeping them engaged, keeping them challenged and embracing and saying, "You know what? You're not a problem. Okay, you're messy, and you kind of wreak some havoc — " and this is true with Ada Twist, she wreaks havoc everywhere she goes, but she's not doing it to be obnoxious. She's not doing it to get attention. She's doing it because she has to know. So, like, she wants to know why do hard things have soft things inside? So she looks at eggs. Sometimes you crack an egg and there's a toy duck in it. Sometimes you crack an egg and there's an egg in it, and then she's holding a turtle.
And you can see her mind going, "What thing's inside there?" And you think, "No, there — stop, Ada." But it's logical, and it is really a scientific approach that she has, and some kids just have that. "What happens next?" I hope that those books particularly — well, all of the books I tend to write, connect to kids and let them see themselves and say, "Okay, I don't quite get it right all the time, and, like, I get into a lot of trouble, but I kinda have that — I feel that connection. I feel that passion," and to say "That is okay."
Science at home
Oh, there's so much parents can do. First off is to listen to the kid, and I think with STEM subjects, there are parents who don't come from a science background and they're intimidated by that. "I can't teach my son or my daughter science because I'm not a scientist, and I don't feel comfortable calling myself a scientist, and I don't feel comfortable exploring that." But in fact science is about questions, and science and engineering, they're about asking questions and finding answers, and mostly they're about the questions.
I always tell kids the smartest person in the room is not the one with the answers. It's the one with the questions, and everyone can ask questions, and really — so if you have a kid who's going out and trying to ask questions and they come to their parents and say, "Okay, why — " there was a kid who asked me in a class yesterday, "Why don't cats like water?"
I don't know why cats don't like water. That's a brilliant question. So a parent can just simply say "I don't know." We think that our kids expect us to know everything, but they don't, and what more powerful message to a kid could there be than for a parent to say, "I don't know. Let's find out," and "How can we find out?" And to go through that process of discovery with them. So it's not that parents are not scientists. They are also new scientists. They are also new engineers.
And if they go down that process with the kids, it's perfect, and they can show kids — because they are going to fail at it. We think our kids expect us to be perfect, and they don't. They expect us to care. They expect us to show up. They expect us to love them and to accept them, and when you are doing something and you fail over and over, which you're gonna do when you're trying to make inventions, if — I guarantee if you try to make a helicopter using cheese spray, your chances of success are pretty low.
Although I do also think that NASA could explore the cheese spray, like, power source a little better. But to me, having parents just recognize that being part of that process and exploring it and then being driven by the kids' questions is just a brilliant way to just go with it, and it's natural, and it shows the kids that they can do it. It shows the parents that they can do it as well, and it's great time together.
But then specifically there are things like make a thinking wall. You can buy dry erase wall or big pieces of paper and just have a place or basket where if you have a question, you write the question, you put it in the basket, and that's our question basket, and maybe on Saturday when we have a couple hours, let's go get one. Let's see what we can find out. Let's go to the library. There are so many magnificent books now. It's really a golden time for narrative non-fiction, for biography, for so many kids' books to really help that process of exploration.
Go to the library, and every question you build then ask another one and another one and another one, and just see where it goes. And then try — "Well, how do we test this? What are we gonna do? Well, I don't know. Let's figure it out." Let the kids drive that process, and it will work out, and it will be a great time, and there will be some messes, and it will be lovely. And it — but it will work, and the other thing that will happen — and I think this is really key for girls, and it's one of the things that I'm so pleased to see, particularly Rosie and Ada Twist help bring girls into this conversation that — and realize, "Oh, I could be a scientist. I could be an engineer."
But starting so young and starting early for girls particularly to have access to just a conversation about science and to start feeling like, "Oh, I could be a scientist, or I could be an engineer." We know we see girls, when they hit fifth grade, sixth grade, they are great at science. They are strong. They have great abilities, and they're comfortable with it, and somewhere along, that confidence fails, and then they drop out, and so that when we get to, you know, high school, the numbers start dwindling, and then when we get to engineers out in the world we're, like, at 13 or 18% or something, of engineers, and it's getting better.
But I really, truly believe that if this just becomes a common conversation and there are many, many, many new picture books every season coming out to sort of help build this understanding from girls that they can be scientists, they can be engineers, and that many have done it already, I think if we build this so that when kids, before they even get to grade school, before they get to kindergarten, it's not even a question, well, then, whenever they start hitting fifth, sixth grade and they catch some flack, some — from somebody, "Oh, you like science," they'll be like, "Yeah, I like to breathe too. What's the — " you know?
"I also like to run, and I like to play basketball and whatever." It would be just unthinkable to not do science because science and art should be just part of their DNA at that point. So that's my hope, anyway, and I think that's kind of happening. And it's cool.
Finding the right illustrator
So when you write a picture book, people always assume that you say to the editor, "Hey, I'd really like to have Sophie Blackall, who just won the Caldecott, or I'd like — really like to have whoever do my book," and they say "Sure, that'd be the way to do it." But, in fact, it's not the process at all. So you write a story — now this is different if you are also an illustrator, which I'm not, but if you write a story, then you send it to the editor, and the editor and the art director at a publisher will think about, you know, the words and the styles and kind of their feel for it and what they think is important, and then they will reach out to the illustrators they think will build on those words and explore the world that you've created or that you've begun and then find the illustrator for it.
So you really rarely have any input in that, and what I learned from Iggy Peck was that I would never have recognized this style for David Roberts as being one that would fit with the words, but I know now that is the gift that — and the talent that an editor and an art director bring to bear, and it is its own form of genius because I see over and over how they will find artists to connect to stories that I would never think would be, like — would work, and then it brings — it takes two parts, and it makes something even bigger and more wonderful.
I mean, Dan Santat is who illustrated Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, which is sort of a novel/graphic novel hybrid. You know, Dan's gone on to win the Caldecott, and he's brilliant. [incomplete?]—
There's this magic space in a picture book where the words and the art create something new, and it's just sort of a no man's land, but that's where the magic happens. So you can read the text of Iggy Peck, or any of my stories, and the rhyming books tend to be readable in that format, and they make sense, and it's a lovely story, but it's not really until you bring in this whole visual world that then kids can really get sucked into the book.
They get sucked in, and they can feel like they're there. They are in that space, and sometimes the art can be very simple. In the Ted books, Pascal Lemaitre from Belgium, he makes these very simple world, but still there are details in there, and the jokes — the way he pulls in the environment of Ted's world — like, Ted wakes up one morning, and he gets out of bed, and he stubs his toe, and he's like, "Oh, no. I need a doctor." Well, he can't find one anywhere, and all — that's all I say in my text.
I don't say "Go look under the bed. Go look in the closet. Go look under your, you know, pajamas," but that's what Ted — that's what Pascal draws, and then Pascal gets to fill in these jokes, and that — particularly when you're writing humor, when you have an illustrator who can take very simple words and then make a joke that doesn't just fly with the illustrations, and it doesn't just fly with the words, but together, then when kids read that and they put together the joke, that's when it's — that's the beautiful magic land of a picture book.
Finding the joke
So When Giants Come To Play, the whole premise is a little girl hanging out, and her friends come over, and they are giants. So it was so much fun to have this contrast between, you know, what happens when your regular friends show up? Well, you know, we raced through the meadow, and it — and the giants, you know — the giants always let me — I always win. Well, no. You take one step and the giants are, like, already miles down the road, or When Giants Come to Play, we play catch by the gnarled oak tree.
Well, they throw the girl over the tree. So a picture of giants throwing a girl over a tree is kind of funny. The picture of, like — you know, we play catch is lovely but not funny, but in between this land where then kids, they have to see that for themselves, and they have to interpret the pictures, and then it's very empowering because they're pulled into the book, and then they feel like, "Oh, I get that. I found that joke. That joke is real for me," and humor is one of the most powerful things ever.
You have something funny, and it connects to everybody. Everybody feels better when they have humor.
Notes about the writing process
One of the scariest things about writing, I think, is when you just have open space there's no place to start, and you don't know, and you're sitting there, and you're like, "I don't even know where to begin." So one of the things I try to tell kids when they're writing is "Give yourself a starting spot." You can always change later, but start here and say, "What if?" As yourself a question, and that gives you a place to begin, sort of like the — you know, the Wizard of Oz, that path starts in the circle right there in the Land of Oz. Dorothy has to start somewhere. And so that helps with it.
So, for instance, the first novel I wrote was The Secrets of the Cicada Summer, and it's actually very autobiographical. I like to tell kids that what happens in that story, everything is true except what happened, and so by that I mean the plot is not something that happened to me. I didn't have a brother named Pete, and — so this book is very lyrical. It's mysterious, and it's also very emotional.
But when I wrote The Secrets of the Cicada Summer, it was a cicada summer where, you know, the cicadas come out, and they don't always come out everywhere, but places where there's a lot of humidity, and it's just a deafening, wonderful, wonderful sound, and when I was a kid — I think I was about 12 or 13 and we had one of those, and there were always cicadas in my hometown where I was raised, but — and I always loved them 'cause I was always out exploring nature and finding their — you know, the carapace from the bugs.
And I was going somewhere, and I thought, "Oh, cicada summer," and I — that phrase I just loved. "It's a cicada summer." But I didn't — you know, I just parked it and put it away. And then a few weeks — well, a few months later, I just was sitting around one day, and I got this visual of a girl sitting under a tree, one girl's under the tree reading and another girl up in the branches sort of hiding who sort of, like, says — just kind of startles the girl who's reading.
And the girl underneath the tree is just shocked, and she doesn't know what to do, and I'm like, "I don't know who these kids are. What's this?" And I just sort of parked it, and then over the next coming months, these — I started getting these scenes, these almost flashes of photographs or small videos of these characters interacting, these same two girls and other people coming and going, and it was like there was a movie in my head and I was only getting to see little snippets of them, but they were completely out of order.
So I said — there was a very strong, emotional connection to these, and I started writing them down. So I took, you know, these big 5x7 cards, and I would just write, like, what is this thing going on? I would just write it, and I put them in a box, but they were out of sequence. So ultimately, I ended up with this box of cards, and I sat down one day and said, "You know, I don't exactly know what this is, but I wonder if there's a narrative there?" And there was. So I took them out, and I laid them on the floor and rearranged them and said, "Oh, this is a story of a girl named Lily, and she doesn't talk for some reason, and there's something that's happened to someone, and who is this other girl?"
And then I started exploring and filled in the gaps. So in that one, the process was kind of — it just sounds goofy to say it, but it was sort of out of my hands. It was like I had this entire book in my brain, and it was just sort of jumping out as best it could. It was very spooky. It was — ooh, spooky. (LAUGHS) But it worked.
Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies
So Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, the process there was I got this sort of visual. I don't know why. I was eating marshmallows or something. I mean, it was something very inspired like that, (LAUGHS) and I thought, "Oh, marshmallows are hilarious, and we had a lot of rabbits around. I thought, "You know, I bet rabbits like marshmallows," and I'm like, "Well, okay, there's gonna be a planet shaped like a marshmallow, and then there's a rabbit." This is how I fill my time when I'm not doing anything useful. "There's gonna be a planet like a — made of marshmallows, and there's rabbits on it, and then oh, what happens if you get a flaming meteor that hits a marshmallow planet? That's trouble right there."
And then it was all chaos after that. So I started writing that. That was Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, and, of course, luckily these rabbits have a rocket, so they can get in the rocket and come to earth, where they discover that children are very tasty at a summer camp, very nice. But as I was writing that story — and it was just pure goofiness. So I just basically would write whatever cracked me up, which was so much fun, and so I was really channeling my inner-fourth grader there, I think.
And as I was going along there would be jokes that I wanted to tell, and the thing with jokes is if you really have to explain them, they are not funny. But if you can get them out, like, in a sentence, okay, or if you have a picture, that's even better. So Dan Santat was gonna do spot illustrations in this book, and so I would say, "Okay, put a picture of this here," and then after a while I was like, "Could Dan just draw some art here that makes this happen? 'Cause this would be funny."
One girl, one spark
Yes. So two years ago — or a year ago or two years ago, there's a wonderful, wonderful documentary and — called Girl Rising, and I went to see that at the theater, and it's all about the absolutely essential, unbelievably important need we have for every girl to be educated, and the ramifications of when girls are not educated around the world, and when they are, and the difference that makes to countries, I mean, to economies, everything.
Everything works better on this planet when girls have equal access to education, and when all kids have access to great education. It is, to me, the one thing that we can do to fix this planet.
So I saw this movie, and it really stuck with me, and it was beautifully, beautifully done, but it really stuck with me, and I was actually working on the next Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies book. So I was, you know, trying to sit and work on that and, you know, have this ultimately goofy stuff going on in my head, and this movie just kept coming back at me, and I sat and I wrote a poem, and so I just had to park that and get this — these thoughts on paper.
The idea is there's a girl all alone in the dark, and it starts, "One girl, one spark — " I don't want — I'm gonna mess that up. I'm not gonna do — be able to do that. Something — ah, you know, do — but anyway, it's a very, very sparse, simple poem about how just one spark of light that comes from books, from learning, from education can then bring — to this little girl that's all alone in the dark, can bring hope, can bring then just power and beauty and the capacity to do everything.
And so the girl in the dark, she starts growing and thinking and then ultimately creates her own words, and those go out into the world, and when they do, then they bring, like, shining sparks, you know, to bring through the night to one girl left in the dark. And so each of those sparks that one girl gets this power and sends it out, and each of those sparks then goes and helps one more girl until the whole world is lit up, and I think that's the thing we have to do.
If we can connect to girls around this planet — we need 'em. We need their help, and it's stupid not to. It's stupid, shortsighted, and many, many other awful things to not have them. To help — it's terrible to not let every kid become the most amazing people they can become. We need them. We need all of them. We need all hands on deck. We have things to fix. We have problems in this world that are not gonna take care of themselves, and we need every kid from the next generation and every generation thereafter to be the mightiest, most powerful, most marvelous, thinking, amazing people that they can be.
And then we know that's amazing, you know? They have it in them. We just have to let them do it. So — and books is how that happens. It's true. (LAUGHS) It's true.
Polishing the diamond
What do I love about writing? This is what I love most about writing. A couple of things, but I love when you get an idea and being just — when an idea grabs hold of you and it just rattle around in your brain and it's all you want to think about. It's like falling in love, is what it is. It just sort of consumes you, and it — everything else can — you can go through your day, but you're just thinking about this idea, this — "what could this be?" And turning it around and looking at it all different directions.
So I love that part, the brainstorming part of it, because it is like falling in love with some new character you don't even know and you're just trying to investigate it. But the other thing I love in the actual writing process. I love when you're trying, trying, trying to get just the right phrase or words and you can't quite do it, and you're kind of going all around it, and you just — it's elusive, and you just can't get it, and it's actually like going into a mine, a diamond mine, and you pull out this rock, and you know that there's a diamond in there somewhere, but you just — you can't quite find it, so you have to chip away all the stuff that's not diamond.
And then you still have this weird, ugly, crazy thing, and you're like, "Yeah, it's still not quite right," so you have to sort of chip it some more and shape it, and then you're like, "Closer, closer, closer," and it's not until you — really just the right amount of polishing and the right amount of work on it, and then all of a sudden, when you still don't think you've got it, but then boom, it hits, and you look and you have this diamond, and it's just this rough, crazy thing has turned now into something that says exactly what you want.
And it doesn't always happen, and sometimes you just take forever to find that thing, but when it works and when you read this — and when you read a novel or you read any kind of book where someone has done that, that's — that is, like, a source of light. It is magical because the language has taken you to that. It's just — it's so powerful, and it's wonder. So the thing I tell kids is — and people who wanna be writers is, A, you have to write, so if you wanna be a writer, you can't just think about being a writer. I mean, that's called thinking, and it's a wonderful thing, and more people should do it.
We should all do it all the time. Ah, if only we did. But writing is part of it, and it's the work of writing that helps you become a better writer, but also reading, like, just being a really good reader or being — reading — and even if you're not, like, physically good at reading the books, you know, audiobooks. To have access to language and story is very important, but then the thing that I think — the simplest thing that everyone can do is read poetry.
If you want to be a good writer, if you really want to understand the power of language then read poetry because in poetry is — it takes all of the story, it takes all emotion, and it burns it down in a crucible until that all that is left is the essence of what you're trying to say, and it — everything else is gone, and you cannot read poetry — can't — if you truly read poetry and not just, like, skim past the words, but if you really read it, you will find the heart of whatever you need to do, and it's condensed, and it is powerful.
Read for fun
I think it's very important for kids to just read for fun. You know, it's hard — kids have so much pressure. They have so many things they have to do, and school teachers are so — oh, they're so laden down with things that they have to get through the day, that just joyful reading, fun reading for reading's sake gets sort of shifted off to the wayside, and that's — that is, I think, heartbreaking and also shortsighted in the terms of, like, as a culture.
Not on behalf of educators. I can't even begin to express how in awe I am of teachers who get through the day and do so, so much. But this — I think any time a kid can find a book, whatever it is, and if that's a graphic novel, if that's a comic book, if it's a super young book where parents think that the kid should be reading at an older level, whatever book a kid finds that they wanna come back to, that they want to sit up at night under the blankets and read, it doesn't really matter what it is.
I mean, is — if it's in any way — of course, it'd be appropriate, but it doesn't matter what it is. The kid will know, and they will want to read that over and over. Let them because if you ever get a kid who has that moment of "I am sucked into a new world. I am transported through words to a place — and through pictures to a place that's not my life, that maybe is much better than my life that I'm having now, or maybe just much different," but they — once they experience that they will want to relive that over and over and over again.
And that that is what makes readers. They will always try to have that experience. For me, it was reading the Nancy Drew books, and after Nancy Drew, I wanted more of that, so I read Sherlock Holmes. I read Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, and all of these books, and that’s what made it, but I have very specific memories of sitting in our camper in the yard reading Nancy Drew under the sleeping bags and hiding, 'cause I wanted to get through my book and being pulled into that book.
So letting kids find whatever that book is — and don't judge them about, "Oh, that's too young for you." There's been this terrible push, I think, for — and it's an offshoot, I think, the Harry Potter success, and I'm a big Harry Potter fan, but this idea that kids should immediately jump to novels and leave picture books is very, I think, wrong-headed because there are proven and, you know, studied pathways in your brain that develop through the connection of words and pictures, but — and that is incredibly important for our cognitive development.
Beaty reads an excerpt from Ada Twist, Scientist
All right. So Ada doesn't speak until she's almost three, and her parents look at her and they think, "Well, she'll have something to say when it ought to be said," and that's just what happened when Ada turned three. She tore through the house on a fact-finding spree and climbed up the clock just as high as she could. Her parents yelled, "Stop!" As all good parents would. Ada's shin quivered, but she did not cry. She took a deep breath and she simply asked, "Why?"
"Why does it tick and why does it tock, and why don't we call it a granddaughter's clock? Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?" She started it why and then what, how, and when. By bedtime, she came back to why once again. She drifted to sleep as her dazed parents smiled at the curious thoughts of their curious child who wanted to know what the world was about. They kissed her and whispered, "You'll figure it out."