Writing for Young Readers

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One of the questions I often receive from muggles adults, is Why do I write for young readers. After I stare at them for an uncomfortably long moment, I begin to explain.

When I was a kid growing up in an Air Force family, we moved around a lot. I had to go to a different school in a new state every two years or so. Leaving behind your friends when you’re a kid can be wrenching. But the thing that always made me feel better when we got to a new school was visiting the library. There, I found librarians who were always ready to recommend a new book. Within their pages I discovered Narnia, Middle Earth, Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, and other fantastical people and places.

I like writing for this age group because it’s the time in a young reader’s life when the world is still full of wonder and possibility.

Maybe there is a secret world behind the wardrobe. Maybe…just maybe, I will get an invitation to a magical school in England. (I’m still waiting for my letter. But then I’d freak out because it would be delivered by an owl and I’m afraid of birds.)

When I was a kid, I read somewhere that JRR Tolkien used something he called sub-creation to create his world. He called it a secondary world, which your mind could actually enter. My brother and I, also a voracious reader, took this literally. We truly thought we could get to Middle Earth by sheer concentration.  We turned off the lights, tried to clear our minds, and hoped to soon be walking in the Shire, talking to Elves and hobbits, and having lunch with Wizards.

We didn’t make it to Middle Earth, but we did get to a place where our creative minds were ignited. We’d come out of these fugue states and write and draw and create our own language. Our parents actually had to insist we turn off the lights and go to sleep because we were reading too much.

I also tell the muggles…that every kid deserves to see themselves in a book.

This is important. We all deserve this, be it a brown boy, a Korean girl or a gay teen.

The writer Neil Gaiman calls fiction an empathy machine, and it makes us see and understand and connect with people who are different than we are.

So that’s why I like writing for young readers. Within their hearts, there’s still a possibility that there’s some kind of magic in the world, if you look hard enough.

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Ronald L. Smith is the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award–winning author of Hoodoo, The Mesmerist, Black Panther: The Young Prince, and The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland. You can find him online at strangeblackflowers.com and on Twitter at @RonSmithbooks.



The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away by Ronald L. Smith

In this delightfully creepy novel from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner Ronald L. Smith, twelve-year-old Simon thinks he was abducted by aliens. But is it real, or just his over-active imagination? Perfect for fans of Mary Downing Hahn and Louis Sachar.

Twelve-year-old Simon is obsessed with aliens. The ones who take people and do experiments. When he’s too worried about them to sleep, he listens to the owls hoot outside. Owls that have the same eyes as aliens—dark and foreboding.

Then something strange happens on a camping trip, and Simon begins to suspect he’s been abducted. But is it real, or just the overactive imagination of a kid who loves fantasy and role-playing games and is the target of bullies and his father’s scorn?

Even readers who don’t believe in UFOs will relate to the universal kid feeling of not being taken seriously by adults that deepens this deliciously scary tale.


“I hugged this book last night because I love Simon so much.” —Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery Award-winning author of Hello, Universe

“Smith (Hoodoo, 2015) continues to be one of the most distinct and impressive voices in middle-grade speculative fiction right now.”–Booklist

“An eerie and layered tale with a main character to which young readers will relate.”–School Library Journal

“CSK/Steptoe Award–winning author Smith (Hoodoo, rev. 9/15) crafts a tightly plotted novel full of suspense and compassion with a climax that will chill readers straight to the bone.”–The Horn Book Magazine

“A middle-grade X-Files primer.”–Kirkus

“The touching efficacy of this novel is in its showing rather than telling of a boy with the weight of multiple worlds—whether through the media or family or his own mind—placed squarely on his small shoulders.”–The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

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