Guest Post by Amanda Li
Being a non-fiction author for kids is a fantastic job and I often remind myself how lucky I am. Every day is different and I’m always learning something new about the world as I sit at my desk, tapping away, trying to think up imaginative and new ways to present information to children.
As a former children’s commissioning editor at a large publishing house, I always had the ambition to write my own books. My favourite editorial job was writing the back-cover ‘blurb’ and this job taught me a lot about writing non-fiction for kids, especially how to convey information and concepts in very few words and in an entertaining way.
Going freelance thirteen years ago finally gave me the chance to write my own books, and I’ve ended up working on everything from toddler nursery books to teenage self-help titles. My latest book ‘Rise Up – Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories’ came about through a collaboration with the children’s publisher, Buster Books. We worked closely together over several months to come up with a book in the ‘influential people’ genre, that would appeal to both girls and boys. And we wanted it to be more than just stories about famous people. Diversity was important, telling stories about different kinds of children, from every part of the globe.
Another aspect to ‘Rise Up’ was that each story would be followed by a factual spread of ideas, activities, advice and tips for readers to act on, something tangible that they could take from the book and apply to their own lives. This was where the fun really started. During the course of writing the book, I’ve explained how to be a better singer, how to speak confidently in public, how to tell a joke, how to survive in the rainforest, even how to tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator, among many other things. I’ve learnt a huge amount of new and useful information, as well as applying a few bits of knowledge that I’ve gleaned from my own life. For example, the singing tips are exercises I do every week at choir and my public speaking advice came from my days as an editor presenting new books at sales conferences. Who knew how useful these experiences would be one day!
The biggest challenge as author of ‘Rise Up’ was to find about thirty children and teenagers whose stories would not only be interesting and exciting, but also inspirational and memorable. I started my research thinking that it was going to be difficult to find enough young people with the qualities we were looking for, qualities like bravery, determination, grit, creativity. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Through reading books and newspapers, going to libraries and doing huge amount of online research, I soon found hundreds of stories from all over the world. Stories of young people who have overcome huge obstacles to achieve incredible things. Like young Pratima Sherpa from Nepal, who learnt how to play golf with a piece of wood and who is now on her way to becoming a professional golfer. Others, like Boyan Slat, who has devised a way of extracting plastic from the oceans and Greta Thunberg, surely the youngest ever activist for climate change, have dedicated their young lives to ensuring that the earth has some kind of future. I also found stories of children who used their wits to survive terrible experiences, despite the odds being stacked against them – Molly Kelly walked hundreds of kilometres across Australia to find her family and Juliane Koepcke staggered out of the rainforest alive, weeks after a plane accident.
There were amazing stories from the past, too. Did you know that a 14-year-old boy was a Resistance spy during World War Two? Pierre Demalvilain risked his life spying on important Nazi sites and posing as a Boy Scout to get the information to Paris. You’re more likely to have heard of Louis Braille, who decided that if he couldn’t read a book like other children, he would invent his own way of reading through touch – Braille, of course.
I soon realised that the real difficulty was going to be selecting the final list of characters for the book. There were so many amazing young people out there. We’re often told how we’re raising a generation of ‘special snowflakes’ but there are none of these between ‘Rise Up’s covers. Instead there are young activists, creators, musicians, entrepreneurs and everyday heroes, all working to improve or contribute to the world in their own way.
Of course, creating a book isn’t just about the text. That’s just the first stage. I was lucky enough to work with a very talented team at Buster Books, who edited and shaped the text and produced a fantastic design for the cover. They also found the amazing illustrator, Amy Blackwell, who brought the whole thing to life with her colourful, lively artwork.
I can’t wait to see ‘Rise Up’ in bookshops and libraries and I really hope that it will let young readers know that anyone ordinary can do something extraordinary, no matter what age they are.
Rise Up is Published by Buster Books, Witten by Amanda Li and Illustrated by Amy Blackwell.
The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.