Children's literature: Writers, illustrators talk about creative process at BYU symposium

Published: Sunday, July 31 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

They shared their perspectives on children's literature and participated in informal question-and-answer sessions. They talked about their own works and the processes and inspirations behind them.

The bubbly, humorous Hahn might be the last person one would suspect of writing ghost stories. Although she also writes historical fiction, she is best known for the supernatural twists.

Does she write the stories she would have liked to read as a child? No way, she said. "I'd have been terrified of my books when I was 10."

But it is fun to write about ghosts now.

"Mine aren't gory, gruesome ghost stories," she said. "I try to do them in the tradition of old English stories. I make them as scary as I can stand. They're scary, but they won't gross you out."

But there's something about reading ghost stories, she says, that controls fear, makes it safe. "The things that scare you most can be overcome by reading stories of fear and death." Less than half the books she writes are ghost stories, she says, "but those are the ones kids read the most."

Does she believe in ghosts? People always ask that, Hahn said. "I don't know. They occupy some twilight place, where they can be if you want them to be — or not. I like writing about ghosts because they speed things up, make things happen. It's a neat thing to put in a ghost and then see what happens."

Hahn thinks her "The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall" has the best ghost, but "Time for Andrew" has the best ending, she says. Georgie in the "Old Willis Place" is her favorite character. But her own personal favorite book is "Stepping On the Cracks," which is set against a World War II backdrop and has mysteries but no ghosts.

"You have to write what you want to write," she said. "Lots of bits and pieces from life come together for a book. Ideas come from everywhere and nowhere."

Wiesner agrees.

"I sit down and draw and draw and draw until some connection happens, some spark comes along that unlocks the story." Over the years, he said, "I've learned to have faith in my process. It's worked before; it will work again."

Wiesner strives to tell stories "in the clearest, most efficient way I can." The great thing about doing wordless books, he says, "is that it's not my voice that's telling the story. It's the voice of whoever is reading that tells the story."

It has been fun to see how readers have reacted to those kinds of stories. A librarian told him about one little boy who tore up pieces of paper and wrote a story on them, then tucked each piece between the pages of "Flotsam" before putting the book back on the shelf. Wiesner's favorite line was when the boy wrote, "Jon was looking at unnormal pictures."

It's something he wishes for everyone. Life should be filled with unnormal pictures, he said, with sparks of imagination, with all the amazing things that come from books.

Email: carma@desnews.com

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