Today, Linda Thieman is here. Linda is the author of the upcoming children's chapter story, Katie and Kimble: A Ghost Story, written for children aged 7-10.
Katie & Kimble: Bucking Conventions
by Linda Thieman
When I decided to write the Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story chapter book series for ages 7 to 10, I simply refused to buy into all the conventions about children’s literature that seemed to be so pervasive in the field of publishing—not the best way to find a publisher, mind you, but a suitable way for me to stick to my vision of what I thought a children’s book series could be.
Boys Will Not Read Books about Girls
For one thing, there is the belief that girls will read stories about boys but that boys will not read stories about girls. Well, the first chapter book I ever read was a story about three boys and a cat and I was never so bored in my life! So, I knew from my own childhood experience that this convention was at least partially incorrect.
But I needed to discover if the flip side was also incorrect. As a former teacher, it had long been my plan, a plan that has since materialized, to offer teaching and homeschooling materials free of charge to schools and parents—materials that correspond to the first two books in the Katie & Kimble series, Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story and Katie & Kimble: The Magic Wish. This plan was developed at a time when chapter books were being introduced into the classroom setting in an effort to make reading a more natural experience for children. So it was important for me to ascertain whether or not boys would enjoy the Katie & Kimble stories in a classroom setting.
Once I’d finished the manuscripts of the first two Katie & Kimble books, I asked two teachers, one 3rd grade and one 4th grade, to pilot the stories in their classrooms. In both cases, the boys were quite engrossed and enjoyed the stories immensely. One of the teachers even used reading Katie & Kimble as a reward if the rowdy boys behaved. She said it worked like a charm.
Characters in a Series Cannot Grow
After I’d written Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story, I attended a workshop for writers of children’s literature. When the workshop leader found out I was writing a children’s book series, she made the comment that when writing a series for children, the characters always have to be the same age and so they have no ability to learn and grow. This statement ran counter to all my plans, to say the least. One thing I make sure happens in each Katie & Kimble book is that both Katie and Kimble find some measure of healing and growth. Nine-year-old Katie is coming into her own in every way, learning to make her own decisions and discovering that she has the power to help people. Kimble, the ghost of a ten-year-old girl, becomes less and less a victim trapped in time as Katie helps her discover not only what happened to Kimble’s mother, but a way to say goodbye, too, which provides Kimble with some closure.
Get the Parents Out of the Picture
Another seeming convention was the common plot device of getting rid of the parents in order to create some independence for the main character, the child. Doesn’t matter how or why, the parents were just gone, and the child or children seemed to have no emotional reaction to the situation at all. So I wanted to flip that around completely to tell the story of a girl, Katie, who grows in independence because her parents help her to do so. Katie’s parents are supporting characters in the best sense of the term—they are there to support Katie as she learns, grows and makes decisions, right or wrong. And they respect her decisions and talk her through them. Gradually, as Kimble becomes known to the rest of the family, Katie’s parents treat Kimble with the same love and respect and begin to set boundaries for her—something she has sorely lacked for decades!
Ghost Stories Must Be Scary
The final convention I wanted to buck was to write a ghost story that wasn’t scary. Kimble is not jumping out and trying to scare Katie all the time. She approaches Katie gradually and tries to make friends with her. Kimble is a well-developed character; she is a child who happens to be a ghost. There are so many stories that are non-fear-based that can be told in a format such as this, where the lines between worlds are not quite as concrete as they sometimes seem, and these stories can be about empowerment and healing and growth.
Children’s book author Linda Thieman writes the Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story chapter book series for ages 7 to 10, and runs the Katie & Kimble blog. http://www.katieandkimbleblog.com
She has a master’s degree in applied linguistics and is a former English language teacher who has created a set of reading skills activity packets and classroom materials that teachers and homeschoolers can download free of charge from the Katie & Kimble blog. These materials are guided by the national standards set for third grade reading and language skills. Linda lives in Sioux City, Iowa.
Thanks, Linda. :)