Monday, 27 April 2015

Writing for Children: Interviewing Penny Reeve

Today I'd like to welcome Penny Reeve to Australasian Christian Writers. Penny is a well-known Australian children's author, and she's going to be sharing about writing and publishing for children. Welcome, Penny!

Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself – family background, publishing history etc.

I grew up as the child of missionaries. My parents worked for MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) and as a result we moved around a fair bit. We lived in the Northern Territory, Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea. It was in Bangladesh that I wrote my first book. I was seven at the time and wrote a fully illustrated chapter book titled ‘Creepy Crawlys’. I think this is what first captured my imagination when it came to being a writer, but it wasn’t until my daughter was born in 2000 that I first started writing seriously, and for publication. That was fifteen years and 21 books ago.

What ages does children’s fiction cover?

Children’s fiction is a really wide category. It covers everything from board books for toddlers to deep, challenging novels for young adults. Some children’s writers specialise in a particular age bracket, but many of them, like me, write across all ages.

Are there "standard" age groups? What are they?

Yes, there are some ‘standard’ categories within the realm of children’s books. The Children’s Book Council of Australia categorises books for children into the following groups:
  • Older Readers (typically YA)
  • Younger Readers (novels for ‘middle grade’ age groups) 
  • Early Childhood (books for children in lower primary age groups) and 
  • Picture Books (books using the picture book medium, but often catering for a wider age range than the Early Childhood books). 

The boundaries of children’s books are often challenged by the books themselves; for example, some YA novels are now becoming commonplace in adult reading diets, and some picture books make grown-ups choke back tears while reading aloud to a contented child. The beauty of a well-written children’s book is that it will appeal to a wide variety of ages at the same time and/or at different times.

Do you illustrate your own books?

Oh, No! I am NOT an illustrator. I can draw to keep my children happy, but that’s about it. Each book of mine has been paired, by the publisher, with an extremely talented illustrator who has been able to bring my stories to life in their own unique way.


What are the differences between children’s books aimed at the general market and the Christian market? What are the similarities?

I think the main difference between the two is the market expectation. People who buy ‘Christian Books’ are expecting some level of deliberate ‘teaching’ or ‘theological exposition’ to be taking place in the book they buy. Sometimes they want ‘clean’ fiction for their children, or ‘safe’ content. The trap authors and publishers need to avoid is to focus purely on the lesson, to the detriment of quality, story and character.

In the general market the focus is primarily on story, or character. So, if a book has faith content but is aimed for the general market the expectation for ‘teaching’ doesn’t exist. Any Christian characters are present as crucial elements in the story and are not tools for teaching a ‘spiritual lesson’.

Similarities between books for the general and Christian market lie in type and reach. Age groupings are the same, style and format often overlap, and sometimes popular trends (for example fantasy or historical content) can be same.

What's the best thing about writing for children? The worst?

For me, I think the best thing about writing for children is the scope of it. From picture books to novels, it’s all there, and one of the things I enjoy is being able to consider this smorgasbord of possibilities and choose the medium that will best tell the story I want to write.

The worst thing? As far as I’m concerned, there is no worst thing. I enjoy it all.

About Penny Reeve

Penny Reeve is the author of many children’s books including the popular Tania Abbey Adventures and Find The Animal series. In 2013 she won the Children’s Category CALEB Prize with illustrator Jemima Trappel for their picture book Wonderfully Madison. She now lives in western Sydney with her husband and three children, and will be guest blogging for ACW on the topic of writing for children over the next few weeks.

10 comments:

  1. Hi Penny and welcome to ACW. Looking forward to reading your future posts.

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    1. Thanks, Ian, for the welcome.
      It's been lovely to share some of my story and love of writing for children.

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  2. Today, I'm aching for the country of Nepal. I lived there with my family during the space of 2001 and 2006. It was where I researched and wrote Himalayan Adventures, and if not just a beautiful nation but filled with amazing and resilient people. I'm currently selling Himalayan Adventures from my website with 100% of the book's price being donated to INF to help INF respond to the earthquake crisis. If you're interested in a copy of the book please visit:
    http://www.pennyreeve.com/page7.htm
    If you'd prefer to donate a larger amount visit https://give.everydayhero.com/au/inf-earthquake-response
    Thank you, Penny

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    1. Penny, my heart is aching, too. Thanks for sharing the earthquake donation links with us.

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  3. enjoyed giving my young nephew five of the "God Made...' books Penny wrote. I think it's wonderful to give children the awareness of God at a young age. Keep writing Penny. I watched the TV news of the shocking earthquake in Nepal. I'll be sure visit your website, Penny.

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    1. Glad to hear your nephew enjoyed the 'God Made Something' series, Rita!
      Thanks also for your care and concern for Nepal.

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  4. Congratulations on your amazing literary efforts, Penny! I really enjoy your work and so do the children who visit my house - your books are among the first chosen from the shelf :) Lovely to have you part of ACW.

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    1. Hi Andrea, thanks for your comments - always LOVE hearing about how my books are received by kids!
      (and I'm not sure why Google recognises me by an exclamation mark and not my smiling face... ahh, the mysteries!)

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  5. Hi Penny, Welcome to ACW and thank you for sharing your expertise with us :)

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