Books, Fiction, News & Commentary

Children’s author Kim Kane on writing for kids

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Without doubt it is Kim Kane’s background as a lawyer that helps make her an effective advocate for children’s literature. In addition to being the author of 13 books for children, Kane sits on the board of the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance (ACLA) which is the body that manages the Australian Children’s Laureate. In the course of the work she does on a voluntary basis for ACLA, she says “I am constantly amazed by the outstanding writers and illustrators this country boasts”.

Kane’s new book, When the Lyrebird Calls, is a time slip novel in which the main character finds herself back in 1900, a momentous period in Australia as the population moves towards nationhood while grappling with issues such as female emancipation and Aboriginal rights as well as the complexities of federation.  SupportBadge

Kane makes no apology for addressing weighty themes in her work, though the premise of the novel – where the young heroine Madeleine suddenly finds herself transported back more than a century – is in keeping with the conventions of fantasy. “I decided to write a time slip novel as a nod to the genre which I adore. Unlike straight historical fiction, a contemporary narrator makes it an infinitely more enjoyable and relevant romp. Time slip novels”

According to Kane, the character of Madeleine is based – “extremely loosely” – on her own eponymous step-daughter. “My Madeleine is an accomplished athlete and I liked the idea of putting a very strong girl back in the 19th century. Girls’ bodies have changed substantially – within my lifetime they are maturing physically two years earlier – and yet this profound biological transformation has not yet been fully recognised by the wider community.”

“My protagonists are almost all girls. I think I must write for a young me even when I think I am writing for my children.”

As someone with a decade’s experience work in a traditionally tough profession for women, Kane is conscious of the struggles and challenges faced by her female protagonists. “Although I have twin boys, a step-son and a step-daughter who was more of a tomboy, I do write for girls. People often comment on it. My protagonists are almost all girls. I think I must write for a young me even when I think I am writing for my children.”

Apart from anything else, Kane says that reading books with her eight-year-old sons is an education for her as a writer and advocate. “As a mother, I find I am very specific about what appeals to my children when I am writing — not only what books appeal to them but what they find interesting or amusing or difficult in their own lives. I am reading a huge number of children’s books with them — discovering new fabulous writers and rediscovering others I’d left back in the nursery. My work seems to feel more relevant to my readership now although perhaps it also less dreamlike.”

“It would be fabulous to see more panels on craft or diversity or landscape which include children’s writers alongside adult writers.”

With such literary riches on offer for younger readers, Kane finds it puzzling that children’s books do not receive greater recognition in this country. “Australian children’s writers and illustrators are published consistently internationally. Our works are translated. We are accountable for about 40% of sales in bookshops and yet we are so poorly represented at festivals and in the media. There are obvious exceptions, but I do find it frustrating that our very talented, reflective and often highly analytical writers are confined to events where they speak to children. It would be fabulous to see more panels on craft or diversity or landscape which include children’s writers alongside adult writers.”

In addition to helping her articulate the case for her art, Kane says her legal training helps her write for children. “I wasn’t a particularly notable lawyer — although I did practise for 10 years — but there is something about the discipline of legal writing — the specificity — which works well with children’s writing, particularly picture books — in which information must be imparted in a very economical way. I also wonder whether lawyers aren’t quite good at being edited as we come from a profession with a stark hierarchy and we are used to surrendering ownership of our work.”

“Children’s writing is as varied as its adult counterpart. We have genre novels, historical novels, literary fiction, commercial fiction and some sophisticated illustrators.”

“While the legal profession is tightly regulated, Kane senses limitless possibilities as an author of fiction. “I write for children because I can and because there is something about children’s books which I find endlessly appealing. There is a vast amount of junk on the market — as there is for adult fiction — but children’s writing is as varied as its adult counterpart. We have genre novels, historical novels, literary fiction, commercial fiction and some sophisticated illustrators. So often people fail to realise this and seem to judge everything that is written for children by our Dan Browns.”

Kane believes that the joy of reading is felt most strongly by children, and that what they remember from their novels and picture books will stay with them as adults. “The funny thing about children is they not only read (which is particularly gratifying for somebody who peddles books), but they retain books and characters for life. I often think about what I read as a child — about what I loved as a child.”

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When the Lyrebird Calls is published by Allen & Unwin. 

 

2 responses to “Children’s author Kim Kane on writing for kids

  1. When my twin daughters were younger I tried to find quality,literate(!) books that opened their imaginations to story, wisdom and character. Most modern books for young children failed these criteria and were boringly didactic. Instead I told gthem stories from when I was a child on a farm.
    Eventually I read an interview with an author whose name I forget. He recommended that parents read the classics such as Peter Pan and Jungle Book to their kids.

    My daughters have been wrapt. When they were 11, I read them the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It lifted them forever.

  2. I was looking for material on ADHD at my local library when Ginger Green, Play Date Queen “The Crazy Friend” book popped up. Since my 7 year old granddaughter has recently been diagnosed with ADHD I was thrilled that there was a book that I could share with her and written for her level. Upon reading the book and reflecting on the title, I knew I would not be sharing it with my little granddaughter. The last term I want associated with her and her condition is the word “crazy”. I do not like labels such as these associated with documented conditions and certainly not to someone I love. If this is indeed meant for children to better understand their peers or themselves it falls very short. Your story never explains why Ginger’s friend, Maisy is different. In the end Ginger displays acceptance, while Ginger’s mother just finds Maisy annoying and difficult.

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