As writers of children’s books, we are told to read the latest works out there in our genre to be aware of what’s selling, what topics might be saturated, and what areas are lacking. However, this past week I read two middle grade novels that were published about twenty years ago: Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick, and Tangerine, by Edward Bloor. Both books had been recommended to me numerous times by young and old alike. It took me a while to get to them as I have been doing what is recommended: reading more recently published children’s books to keep up with the current market. But the last time I saw my sister, she asked me if I’d read those books yet. “I loved them! So did the kids! Read them!” Because I’m smart, I don’t argue with my sister, so off to the library I went.
I am so glad I did! I thoroughly enjoyed both of them. Freak the Mighty particularly touched me as I work with special needs kids. And Tangerine won over my heart as this young boy stayed true to his passion of soccer while struggling to discover the truth about a family secret (I’d say more but I don’t want to give it away!). But what struck me the most about both of these novels was their timelessness. They are as relevant today as they were twenty years ago.
This made me consider my own writing. Will the stories I’m writing be relevant down the road? It’s a vital question. Some books can be dated and may not carry over well in the future. Others have a timeless quality to them and can be appreciated long after their initial publication. While longevity is not necessarily a prerequisite for publication, it’s something to think about when writing. So while it is important to keep up with the current children’s market, don’t ignore those oldies but goodies. They have a lot to teach us about the craft of writing.