It is early on Sunday evening. I know I have to write this post, but this afternoon I bought a copy of Charlie Higson's The Dead and I just can't stop reading. I am over halfway through and I know I will finish it tonight. I am sure you all know exactly what it is like; I've been telling myself 'just one more chapter' for at least an hour. The book has sucked me in and everything else - eating, walking the dog, blog posts - is an annoying duty.
This is because I love to read. But more especially, I love to read children's books. I had thought that this was normal. However, recently I met a successful children's author who told me that she practically never reads children's books. I was pretty astonished, but the conversation was cut short and I wasn't able to thrust books into her hands while imploring 'read this, and this, and you have to read this.'
Aspiring children's writers are often told that they must read widely in the genre. The purpose of this is to give them an understanding of the marketplace. It's great advice, but it isn't why I read children's books. I read them for three main reasons: entertainment, support and inspiration.
Children's books are entertaining because their authors can go on elaborate flights of fancy (yesterday I read Mortal Engines) but they have to do so within a tight word count. This means that each word has to be chosen with the kind of precision that would make a haiku writer look sloppy. It is this breadth of vision coupled with the constraints of form that makes children's literature so vibrant, in my opinion.
I also read children's books because they are written by my colleagues: people I meet online, at events, at conferences and festivals. Like any other professional who takes their work seriously, I want to know who's doing what in my field. Not because they are competition, but because I love my work.
Finally, other children's writers are an inspiration to me. When I read their work and see what's possible, I feel a real burst of enthusiasm. Of course, there are also the moments of doubt where I think 'I can never write anything as good as this', but it gives me the impetus to at least try. To me, reading a Carnegie Medal winner is like a painter going to the BP Portrait Awards, or a musician listening to Mercury Prizewinners. It sets the benchmark and encourages them to aim higher with their own work.
This is, of course, a roundabout way for me to say that I can't write a blog post, I've got a brilliant book to get back to.
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