It was a great pleasure to listen to Piers Torday speak at the Federation of Chidren’s Book Group Conference on the topic of ‘Growing Readers’.
Piers is the author of the Lost Wild Trilogy of books, and they were written on the premise that ‘there is space in the world for every kind of person and creature’.
Piers mentioned that authors are often asked what books have influenced their writing the most. His favourite book as a child was ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.
Piers reflected on what children want from the books they read. He felt they were seeking the same things as adult readers. Children look for answers, comfort and inspiration in the books they read.
For Piers the process of creating a great story requires…
Research and a lot of reading
Piers read everything he could about Wolves for his ‘Lost Wild Trilogy’ including Aesop's Fables, Fairy Tales, ’The Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, ‘The Jungle Book’ and even Michelle Paver’s ‘The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’.
Piers firmly believe that characters have to have a function, they’ve got to have purpose. There are classic character types - hero, enemy, allies etc.
In the ‘Lost Wild Trilogy’ the main problem is climate change and the conflict between animals and humans. The book addresses the question of whether humans sacrifice their comforts or create a human only playground.
Truly great stories for children have common elements…
- An oppressed young child (think of J.K. Rowling’s ’Harry Potter’).
- A vulnerable animal (think of Piers Torday’s ‘The Lost Wild’).
- Dead, missing or remote parents (think of Lemony Snickets’ ‘The Series of Unfortunate Events’).
- A cry for help or a call for adventure (think of L. Frank Baum’s ’The Wizard of Oz’).
- Embarking on a journey or discovering a new world (think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ’The Hobbit’).
- Making friends (think of A.A. Milne’s ‘Winnie-the-pooh’).
- Meeting tricksters (think of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio).
- Triumph over evil with the help of allies (think of C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’).
- Discovering who they really are (think of Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials Trilogy’).
- Finding inner strength (think of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’)
- Living happily ever after.
Piers shared a fascinating story from his own childhood, that amazingly, though he had forgotten, which became the inspiration for this own books. I have relaid the story to my own boys several times as it involved a journey around a remote island with a white bird, a mouse, rabbit and a cat, oh, and a very big coat with rather large pockets. You can imagine the rest.
Piers asks why favourite books resonate with adults as well as children? Maybe the answer is that they speak to the inner child.
'Children need books with a strong narrative with an engaging story that will hold their attention.'
Childhood is all about firsts - ‘from train journeys to trifle children are experiencing so much for the first time’, great books can guide them through these first experiences.
Children wish for books that will help them to experience the things they want, to feel older, independent and free.
There was so much that was great about Piers Torday's talk. So much that I couldn't record it all in my little notebook. Piers perfectly captured the theme of conference and spoke so eloquently about the power of story in the lives of children.