21 Sep

Katrina Kittle Guest Post: Writing Tough Subjects for Young Readers

Posted in Literature, Reading, Writing

Reasons To Be Happy

Hello everyone!  Today, following our Body Image theme, I’ve got the fabulous Katrina Kittle here to tell us about what it was like to write her new book: Reasons To Be Happy.  This book–which literally had me in tears–deals with body image and eating disorders, and does so in a way that young readers can really relate.  What makes Reasons To Be Happy so unique is that it addresses these issues for such a young age group.  This is not the first book to deal with heavy subjects for middle grade readers–nor will it be the last, I’m sure–but given how rare it is to find books like this, I jumped at the chance to host Katrina here at iggi&gabi and learn about her experience writing the book.  Now without further ado, here’s Katrina!

Thanks so much for hosting me, Gabi!

I’ve always been drawn to tough subjects, I think, but I don’t really choose them based on how dark or tough they are. I’m fascinated by human resilience. One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway. He said, “The world breaks everyone. And, afterwards, some are

strong at the broken places.” I just love that. All of my stories are in some way or another about people becoming stronger at their broken places. Because, let’s face it, life kicks us all in the teeth at some point or another. Some people don’t just survive, but go on to thrive after their struggle. I think every novel I’ve ever written shares that theme. I’m far more interested in the “stronger at” part of that quote than the “broken” part. I don’t choose tough topics to drag readers to dark places. I choose them for the redemption and hope at the recovery and outcome.

I’ve written four novels for adults, but Reasons to Be Happy is my very first venture into writing for a younger audience. I tried not to change my approach or process too much. All of my stories have begun with a social issue I care deeply about (and because I’m such a sucker for comeback stories, second chance stories, and phoenix stories, those issues tend to be tough ones). I’ve written about AIDS, addiction, divorce, child abuse, and now, with Reasons, body image and eating disorders. Although the issue is always my seed for a story, I then work to create a cast who would populate a story about that issue, because a novel must be a story above all else—it can’t just be a public service announcement! This felt even more crucial for a tween audience than for my adult audiences. No one wants to be lectured, after all, and because I was a middle school teacher for several years, I know that middle schoolers in particular have a built-in resistance to stories “with a lesson” for them. If you’re patronizing them, they can smell it a mile away.

It’s more satisfying for the reader if any discoveries and revelations come through the character, not from me. I hoped readers, young women especially, would identify with Hannah’s doubts, fears and struggles, and maybe think about Hannah’s mistakes (and then, a writer’s dream—to apply that knowledge to their own lives). My goal is always to invite the reader to think about the issue, but not necessarily tell them what to think about the issue. One of the greatest joys, for readers of any age, is to  have something to discuss at the end of a book. Discussion isn’t possible if everything is too black-and-white with no room interpretations and perspectives.

In early drafts, I made the mistake of “watering down” and playing it too safe. A wonderful editor encouraged me to “forget your audience.” That sounds crazy,

right? But she said, “I picture you picturing this room full of middle school girls. Forget them. Just write the novel you’d always write. The only difference is that all the protagonists happen to be in middle school.” This advice really spoke to me and allowed me stop trying to “filter” for the tween audience. Those attempts to filter will always show and will inevitably be insulting.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course there is a difference in presenting tough subject matter for a tween audience and an adult audience. But for me the key was my protagonist. Especially since Hannah tells the story in first-person, the only “filter” I needed was her. She tells the story with her perspective and understanding of events, not mine. That became important in revision: I would comb through looking for lines or passages that were colored by my own, more experienced viewpoint. When I found them, they had to go. Hannah could only know what she would know as an eighth grader with her own life experience so far.

The overall hope for any story, though, is the same no matter what age you’re writing for. Above all else, I sincerely hope readers are entertained by the journey. Another quote I love (I heard it in a writing lecture once, but have no idea who to attribute it to!): “A novel is not a message clamped to a passenger pigeon’s leg. It should be the experience of watching that pigeon fly from A to B.”

Katrina Kittle


Thank you so much Katrina for being here today!
For anyone who would like to learn more about Katrina check out her website:
You can also follow her on Twitter:
Or visit her facebook page: www.facebook.com/KatrinaKittleFanClub

For more information on Reasons To Be Happy (and to find a list of reasons to be happy for every day), visit the blog: http://katrinakittle.blogspot.com
Also, you can follow the Twitter hash tag: #reasonstobehappy




20 Sep

Body Image in Literature

Posted in Literature, Reading

The topic of body image has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s because being pregnant, I’m suddenly more aware of my body than every before (mostly since there’s more of me to love so I’m constantly bumping into things.)  Or maybe it’s because I’m thinking more about how I want to raise my kid.  How am I going to help him develop healthy food and exercise habits?  How will I help him feel confident in his own body?  These are all questions that had been bouncing around my brain.

This issue–which I think just about every kid and teen dealt with at some point in their lives–is one that should be discussed in children’s and teen literature.  What shocks me, though, is that when it comes the number of novels that actually address body image, there are shockingly few.  Sure, you can find shelves upon shelves of diet books or nutrition books, but that’s not what kids and teens are reading, right?

This week, I have decided to dedicate some time and space on my blog to discussing this very important issue.  Wednesday, I’ll be hosting the awesome Katrina Kittle, author of Reasons to Be Happy, which is a book that addresses body image distortion (and eating disorders) for middle grade readers.  As you may already know, just as there are few books that deal with body image for kids in general, most of the books that do address this issue are targeted to teens.  The fact that Reasons to Be Happy is written for a younger audience really makes it unique among body image books.

Thursday I plan to post a list of books for kids and teens that address body image.  I already have a few on my list, but would love to hear your suggestions as well.  If you have suggestions for books to put on the list, please leave a comment below!  My hope is that if we all put our heads together, we can come up with a solid list of books that deal with this issue.  Finally, on Friday Ghenet and I will be discussing body image in teen literature, in our weekly YA Cafe post.

Starting with today’s post, I’ll be running a series about body image in kid’s and teen literature.  My goal is to start a dialogue where we can discuss how books for kids and teens handle body image and also how we, as writers and adults, can play a positive role in helping kids feel confident in their own bodies.  But more importantly, for us to be role models, we must also recognize that we are beautiful, just as we are.

Which is why this week, if you’re on twitter, please join the conversation. I’ll be using the hash tag #whatmakesmebeautiful to share tweets about ways I’ve become confident in my own body image, and I invite you to do the same.  So tell me, what makes you beautiful?


18 Jun

YA Cafe: Book to Movie

Posted in Literature, Reading, Teen Lit, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs. We’ve also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned! Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

Today’s Special: What YA book(s) would you like to see turned into a movie?

‘Tis the season for books turning into movies.  Between the last installment of the Harry Potter series out this summer and the Hunger Games movie (yeeey!) out next spring, there’s a lot to look forward to in YA books going to movies.  But there’s one book I’m dying to see as a movie and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to happen.  This book is: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.

I let my fingers do the walking and did a little searching on Google, only to find that there appear to be hints that this movie is in store, but because of the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie released in 2010, it appears that LGW is in wait-and-see mode.  There was mention on the Google that one of the producers of The Dark Knight had signed on for LGW, which would be awesome.  This book is such a dark twist on the Alice in Wonderland story that the movie would need to be equally so.

The reason this book would translate so well into a movie is because it’s so visual.  The color plates in the book with illustrations of the characters give us just a taste of the incredible visuals that this story has in store.  But this book isn’t just about cool imagery, there is also action and a hint of romance that would allow it to appeal to both guys and girls.  The strong female lead–Alyss–definitely appeals to the female audience, but the action and intense fight scenes would also keep male viewers engaged.  Think Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-Star-Wars, what’s not to love?

If this movie were out right now, I would see it in a heartbeat.

What about you?  What YA book are you dying to see made into a movie?

Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her book-to-movie picks on her blog: All About Them Words.  Check it out, then tell us what you think!


05 Jun

YA Cafe: #YASaves and Blogfest

Posted in Literature, Reading, Teen Lit, Uncategorized, YA Cafe

Welcome to this impromptu post from YA Cafe. As you probably already know, YA Cafe is a place where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.  Usually we post on Friday, when we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  Sometimes, though, something will happen in the world of teen literature that makes us want to respond right away, even if it isn’t a regular YA Cafe day.  This is one of those days.

You’ve probably already heard about the article titled Darkness Too Visible which appeared in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) yesterday.  Much discussion, disagreement, even outrage has ensued, coming mostly from the teen lit community.  A lot has already been said throughout the blogsphere about the various misconceptions presented in the article, so I’m not about to rehash the subject one more time in this post.  Janet Reid (AKA Query Shark) shared her straight-to-the-point response here. Misty from Nothing Cannot Happen Today raises an important question about the age-range for YA being much wider th an any other age in children’s literature.  The hashtag #YASaves is filled with links to responses from lovers of teen lit everywhere, weighing in on why YA is important.

A lot is being said from the point of view of YA readers, but I’ve been wondering about the writer perspective.  Sure, many authors of YA books have joined the discussion, but it seems the topic is approached mostly from the point of view of the reader.  Why is it important for teens to read YA?  What is the purpose and value of YA?  Why does YA matter?

These are all imp ortant questions, but what I want to know is why do we write YA?  Why is YA so important that as writers we choose to write it above all else?  As a writer, I could pick any genre, really, but why is it that YA makes my voice resonate in a way that no othe r type of writing does?  I haven’t figured out the answers yet, but I want to find out.

Questions like this are why we’re hosting the “Why Do You Write YA” blogfest on Friday.  In light of everything that has been happening in the teen lit community, I invite you all to join and tell the world why you write YA, why it it matters so much to you.  Just as people aren’t going to stop reading  YA, writers aren’t going to stop writing it either.  I know I won’t.

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