A few weeks ago, I arrived at a storytime and book signing for my recent picture book, Night Train: A Journey from Dusk to Dawn. I was greeted by one of the booksellers, who informed me they’d been getting sparse attendance at their Saturday kids’ events. I told her not to worry as I realized these types of events were hit or miss. A few minutes passed and, apart from a fellow writer and her friend, no others had arrived. A woman who’d been lingering nearby approached and asked if I was the author doing the event. She said her two teenage sons—a senior and junior in high school—needed to attend an author event for their AP Literature class so she’d brought them to my signing, not realizing that I wrote for children and would be reading a picture book that morning.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Upstairs. They don’t want to come down.”
I laughed and told her I understood. Personally, I was relieved because at this point, with just a couple minutes until my reading was to begin, zero children had arrived. Nada. This gave me an audience, though not the demographic I’d been expecting. I told her, “Have them come down. I’ll talk to them about my writing process and answer their questions. And I won’t make them sit and listen to me read.”
The young men arrived—with hesitation—and I introduced myself and told them a little about my writing. I was about to ask if they had any questions when their mom said, “Really, I’d like you to read your book. That’s why you’re here.” My writing friend wanted to hear me read as well, so I asked the boys to humor me, filled them in on the inspiration for the story, then read.
When I finished, the tone shifted as the two teenagers started asking me questions. One after another. First about the story itself. Then about the writing process. Then about publication. We discussed writing in rhyme versus prose, the editing process, and how picture book writing differs from novel writing and the unique challenges it presents. The dialogue was amazing, and the experience of seeing these young men realize that picture books are not babyish as they’d thought was one I will never forget. They realized the significant work that goes into constructing a children’s story, even one just a few hundred words in length, and they seemed to understand that the age of your target audience does not define the level of effort needed to create quality writing.
A few minutes later, some little ones arrived and asked to participate in the storytime and craft. I said goodbye to the teenagers and turned my attention to what had been my intended audience. But my heart was already singing at the fact that those teenage boys had come downstairs to the children’s room reluctantly and returned upstairs with a newfound appreciation for what goes into writing for children.
A very good--and unexpected--storytime, indeed.