by R. S. Mellette
On the last morning of the 2019 Los Angeles Comic Con, Sarah Parker-Lee saved the day. She handed out fliers to every kid in sight, begging them to attend our panel, “What Are Kids Reading? What Do You Wish We’d Write?”
Out of fifty or so invited, four kids showed up, along with a handful of adults. A fifth kid had to come because she was a friend of Andrea J. Loney, who was on the panel. The idea was, we authors would switch places with kids in the audience, to make them the panelist. If no kids showed up, I didn’t have a B-plan – so hats off to Sarah!
Once we had the bright, talkative, reading, kids on the panel, everyone knew we had to share their thoughts with Kite Tales readers. So, what are kids reading? What do they wish we’d write?
Here is, not what the kids had to say, but what the adults heard:
Andrea J. Loney: I was so delighted when we brought several teen readers onstage for our panel. This diverse group of kids – all dressed in cosplay – embodied so much of what is not typically represented in YA literature.
Every one of these kids could have been featured on the cover of a book as the hero. In fact, many of them shared that they were tired of seeing the same old stories being written about the same type of people. They’re tired of the guy saving the girl. They’re tired of NOT seeing enough LGBTQIA romantic storylines. And they’re really tired of boy-girl relationships inevitably leading to romance instead of real friendship.
Each speaker beamed with joy while describing their favorite books and manga comics – the immersive worlds, the skillful writing, the authenticity of the characters and conflicts.
These teens also revealed that they’re annoyed with those who see them as lazy and problematic “Millennials” tasked with saving the world. Firstly, the Millennial generation was born in the last century, unlike today’s teens. Secondly, teens didn’t create these problems, and thirdly, they’re children – so why aren’t the adults fixing these problems?
Today’s kids face challenges unprecedented in modern history. The words of these passionate young readers have inspired me to refine my own perspective on creating and promoting children’s literature.
Beth Navarro: You know you’re at L.A. Comic Con when the room your panel is in is hosting other panels like, “Armor and Props: Built to Last” and “So you want to be a Mandalorian.” This is the land of my people! And I was happy to be a part of the “What are kids reading? What do you wish we’d write?” panel with amazing authors, Andrea J. Loney and Kelli McNeil, and our wonderful moderator, R. S. Mellette.
Talking about what we were seeing as reading trends was great, but the real fun came when we let an incredible group of teens take over the panel and answer our questions. The tables were turned! And these kids knew what was up.
What do they want? Immersive worlds. Something new and interesting.
What they didn’t want? Romance tropes. No boy saving the girl. Been there, read that.
Basically they see through the crap. Give them something real. And isn’t that what we all want? Yes we do.
We asked how they like to read, digital or real book. Mostly… REAL. They like the book in their hands. They like to turn the page. And they like CDs and vinyl! I loved this so much. They reminded us, they are not millennials. They are their own generation. And I won’t forget it. They gave us some advice too: Don’t write for a demographic. Write what you want. What’s true to you.
And we know this right? Writers, we are told this. I think it’s time to believe it.
Kelli McNeil: The SCBWI “What are kids reading? What do you wish we’d write” panel was the second one I was on at L.A. Comic Con this year. The first one was a panel advocating for disability inclusion in film and television, as I am also a screenwriter and this is a topic I advocate for.
During the SCBWI panel, we authors (myself, Beth Navarro, Andrea J. Loney, and moderator R. S. Mellette) spoke briefly about what we were writing and how we identified our audiences, often by working alongside our publishers to narrow our scope, and how graphic novels SHOULD be considered books. With the addition of the New York Times best-seller list that’s specific to graphic novels, hopefully more people will take GNs more seriously.
We then invited some of the kids from the audience to come up and take our place and be the panelists. All of them were cosplaying different characters; some of the costumes were really impressive. What struck me the most is not only how diverse the kids were but how self-aware they were. Some of them identified as LGBTQIA and I’m pretty sure most of them were under the age of 16. To not only be that young, but to be that self-aware and confident really struck me.
They talked about appreciating Japanese manga but the most interesting thing of all was when they were asked about whom their favorite authors were. Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman were among the popular favorites mentioned, so it goes to show you that good writing truly transcends generational gaps.
R.S. Mellette: In doing this experiment, we also proved the difference between fiction writers and journalists – as none of us got the names of our volunteer panelists. I fear they will remain anonymous, though, hopefully, their observations will be heeded.
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Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand is R.S. Mellette’s debut novel from Elephant Bookshelf’s Press, followed by Billy Bobble and the Witch Hunt. Prior to Billy Bobble, Mellette published Sci-Fi short stories in the anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, Spring Fevers, and Summer’s Edge. Coming in the fall of 2019 Mellette has two short stories appearing in EBP’s latest anthology, Flight. One of those stories is a sneak peek into his epic sci-fi novel, Dark Star Warrior: The Morian Treasure, due out in 2020. Mellette is a regional board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Andrea J. Loney is the award-winning author of Bunnybear (Albert Whitman & Co.) and Take A Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee (Lee and Low Books). Double Bass Blues (Random House Knopf) is her latest picture book.
Beth Navarro is author of picture books Grambo and Kiko the Hawaiian Wave, writes YA novels and screenplays.
Kelli McNeil is the author of Sleepy Toes (Scholastic) and the writer/producer of Daruma. Her original two-act play BORDERLINE will be produced at The Tank theater in Manhattan in 2020. She is represented by the Gersh agency.
Images provided by R.S. Mellette, Andrea J. Loney, Beth Navarro, and Kelli McNeil.