Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On Book Trailers and Trying to Get Kids to Read

I’ve been working to get everything in order to publicize my new middle-grade novel, PRETTIEST DOLL (Clarion, November 6, 2012).  For the first time, I commissioned a book trailer.  The very talented and amazing Daniel Brown of Wide Eyed Pictures directed.  Here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrjXtcakOBY

Isn’t that little girl wonderful?  Her name is Payton Walker, and her parents wrote to tell me that she doesn’t really have much of an accent but practiced on the way to the shoot.  I think she nailed it.  She managed to capture exactly one of the qualities in Olivia Jane that most touched and interested me: that sense of wanting to put her foot down, say no, stop the bus and get off, all while not hurting anyone or making anybody angry. 

Even though PRETTIEST DOLL is about the world of beauty pageants, I hope it will be meaningful to any kid who feels pressured to participate in activities that don’t really interest her.  When I was raising my children, their friends were not involved in beauty pageants.  But I knew a lot of chess players and singers and black belts and Little League pitchers and gymnasts and swimmers and water-polo players and dancers and actors and goalies and divers and one kid who was on a trivia team and knew everything about European music history and one kid who fenced.  I hope they were doing these things because they loved them and not because their parents were living through them.  It’s hard to know for sure.

(The kid who liked trivia won over $59,000 on "Jeopardy" a few years ago. I think he was twenty-three when he did it.  He is one of my son's best friends.  You should have seen me yelling at the television when he won.)

When I first started writing children’s books twenty years ago, I never gave publicity a second thought.  But now, the combined effects of publishing-house mergers and the allure of other, more dazzling media mean that writers have to work hard to make sure their books get noticed.  I won’t lie: writing the narration for the PRETTIEST DOLL book trailer was a total blast, the most fun I’ve had professionally in a long time.  But the whole thing makes me a little sad, too.  Apparently, books all by themselves aren’t interesting to a lot of kids, who are more likely to read them if a good trailer hooks them first.

Isn’t it funny that reading is the one activity that some parents care about intensely until their kids actually learn how to do it?  And that these same parents sort of lose interest in their children being readers when the glories of the soccer field and the uneven parallel bars beckon?   Why don’t parents cheer when their kids want to lie in bed on Sunday morning and lose themselves in a good mystery?  (And by “cheer,” I don’t mean “pay their kids five dollars for every novel they read.”  I mean “cheer.”  Or better yet, “not cheer.”  Just let their kids alone, for once.)  Why don’t they see the value—the beauty—of a childhood spent under the spell of good books?
Not everyone likes to read.  That’s really okay.  I’m not suggesting that parents turn their crazed attentions to reading and try to make it into a competitive sport.  And I’m not denigrating athletics and music and theater and all the other wonderful things that teach children the value of hard work and self-discipline and membership in a group.

But maybe if parents let their kids know that reading really matters, it might even the playing field (so to speak) and allow books and kids to find each other.  To do this, parents would have to embrace the radical notion that it’s okay to engage in an activity that will not culminate in a trophy or a ribbon.  No clapping, no belt test, no team, no winning.   Just pleasure, and the joy of losing one’s self in an invented world.
Can we parents do this?  I don’t know, but I hope so.  I hate to think what writers are going to have to do in 2042 to get anyone to notice their books if we don’t.

1 comment:

  1. I was always encouraged to read. My father was a minister and my mother was the librarian in a very small town. I mean tiny. We would go to the library and wait for mom to finish and it would seem like hours of doing nothing but keeping quiet. And THAT didn't even do it for me. As a freshman in High School a teacher had us do a book report and because I liked the cover, I chose Robots Of Dawn by Isaac Asmov. Little did I know, it was book three of a trilogy which then turned into a six book series with a prelude written years after the last...anyway, I digress. That is where it started with me. Never been without a book since.