Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kids and Mysteries

by Kathleen Ernst

Getting mail from kids is surely one of the great perks of writing for young readers. I recently got a lovely stack of letters from third graders. Their teacher had read one of my children’s mysteries, Danger at the Zoo, aloud in class.  Afterwards they spent some time on my website, and learned more about me and my work.

Whenever I get a batch of letters like this, I can predict some of the questions they contain.   But there are always surprises, too.  I think this is the first time a child asked me my beverage of choice.

letter 2
Other letters are revealing in other ways.  This student thinks I shouldn’t be quite so wordy.

letter 4
Several kids were interested in my Chloe Ellefson mysteries—my "murder books."
letter 1
letter 5
letter 6
letter 3  
In that last one the child was at least asking if their parents might like them.  Still, the interest and questions reveal a quirk to consider in promoting my work.  Many kids are intrigued by the notion of murder.  And if they enjoyed one of my kids’ mysteries, they get even more interested when they discover I’ve written books that include murder.

In general, I believe kids will self-select books that are appropriate for them, and that’s as it should be.  Since these particular kids are in third grade, I explained that while their parents might enjoy the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, I was sure they’d have more fun exploring my other books written for young readers.

End of the story?  Not quite.

A short story I wrote was recently published online in Women Writing the West’s Laura Journal.  It’s darker than I usually write, and although I don’t go into details, the theme is mature (sexual abuse in the 19th century).  It earned Honorable Mention status in a competition, and now that it’s published, I’d like to steer readers in that direction.

But I have young children regularly visiting my website, and following me on my own blog and on Facebook.  Knowing that, I’m just not comfortable posting the link to that particular story in those places.  (As far as I know, we don’t have too many eight-year-olds following Inkspot.)

On the flip side, having young fans has been a boost for the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.  I’ve heard from a number of teens who read my children’s books when they were younger, and now have become avid Chloe fans.  That is, of course, extremely cool.

So…what do you think about kids reading mysteries written for adults?  Should kids be allowed to sample whatever they wish, or should certain books be labeled out-of-bounds?

12 comments:

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Tough one, but I think that, as you said, kids tend to self-select pretty well. That said, we live in a time in which even young kids are exposed to a lot of subjects and information that many of us didn't run into until we were older. Short of locking them up with no tv or Internet (or friends!), I don't think we can block everything, so the key would seem to be adult involvement - talking about the issues that come up can make all the difference. As for your website, I assume that you wouldn't post all the details, so mentions of your adult books would seem no more hazardous than much of what kids see on a regular basis - or could easily find at amazon and other sites.

On another tack - I just ordered Danger at the Zoo. For myself! :-)

Lois Winston said...

Admittedly, I was a little older than a 3rd grader, but by the time I was 11, I was sneaking Peyton Place under the covers to read at night. Kids always go for the forbidden, and if you tell them they're not old enough to read something, they'll find a way to read it. Books I wasn't allowed to take out of the library because of my age, I simple read at the library, hiding out in a corner away from prying librarian eyes. The Internet makes it all a lot easier these days.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks, Sheila! I hope you enjoy
Danger at the Zoo. Based on numbers, it's my most popular book. Everyone loves animals (as you well know.)

I do have information about all of my Chloe mysteries posted on my website. What I steered clear of was posting a link directly to this particular short story, because its content is darker than the novels. Not graphic at all, but a tough subject to even allude to. I may be over-analyzing the situation...

Kathleen Ernst said...

And Lois, I agree... you can't keep things hidden from kids. And since I don't write explicitly about murder or sex, I also think kids tend to read stories at a level that is appropriate for them. I know that YA readers who read some of my historical fiction do so at a different level that middle grade readers, although it's the same title.

I also know that parents sometimes object to certain things...

Robin Allen said...

Congrats on all the multi-pubs and the honorable mention! Before I wrote my first mystery, I wrote flash fiction and submitted my stories to a bajillion contests. I became the Honorable Mention Queen.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks, Sheila! I hope you enjoy
Danger at the Zoo. Based on numbers, it's my most popular book. Everyone loves animals (as you well know.)

I do have information about all of my Chloe mysteries posted on my website. What I steered clear of was posting a link directly to this particular short story, because its content is darker than the novels. Not graphic at all, but a tough subject to even allude to. I may be over-analyzing the situation...

Kathleen Ernst said...

Robin, I might vie with you for that title of Honorable Mention Queen. Just remember: Honorable Mention is very...um, honorable.

Shannon Baker said...

I allowed my kids to read anything in the house they wanted. I made my ex keep his Playboys off the premises. My parents didn't put limits on me and I read all kinds of things, good and bad. My kids, sadly, weren't big readers, though as adults, they are reading more all the time.

Lisa Bork said...

Kathleen, your post is timely. I have been setting aside copies of my mysteries for my children to read later in life, and just this Friday, my twelve-year-old daughter helped herself to her copies and read them in one weekend. Now she wants to read my new eBook release. My husband asked if my books were appropriate for her. I said I thought they were PG-13. She said, "No, TV-14." Either way, I did tell her "not yet" when she was nine years old.

In general, I favor self-selection. She's put young adult books aside that she didn't think covered topics right for her.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Shannon, I read whatever I wanted as well, and I remember jumping to adult books in middle school. I'm with you on Playboy, for young kids, though!

Lisa, thanks for sharing. Sounds like a good approach.

Deborah Sharp said...

I love the letters you excerpted. Adorable. (PS, coffee or tea?) I was sometimes surprised that parents are ok with their kids(under 15 or so)reading my books. But then I read some of the middle grade and YA books' subject matter ... ay-yi-yi, my PG rated (TV-14? ;-) series seems tame.
As for a link to your darker story, maybe put it with a disclaimer, like: I'm proud of this story, but the subject matter may be darker and more mature than appropriate for some of my younger readers (which, of course, will make them want to read it ... but at least you've warned them)

Kathleen Ernst said...

Yes, those letters are great, aren't they? And I may end up going with a disclaimer, as you suggest. All I can do is try...