Anita Silvey (a children's literature historian and former publisher at Houghton Mifflin) once told me that most of the writers she knew were writing for the age at which they got "stuck" somehow. This is probably not true of everyone, but I think it is true of me. In many ways, I'm still trying to understand all the ways in which I changed, all the ways in which my world changed, as a teenager. Reading and writing young adult fiction gives me access to stories that are like mine and also very different from mine.
Also, I find that the writing in YA novels is cleaner, clearer, more honest -- I can appreciate the artistry of adult novels, but I often feel that the writing overwhelms the story. This rarely happens in YA.
What YA books are you reading now?
I'm between projects at the moment, which I have used as an excuse to read a few books that have been stacked on my nightstand all summer: Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein), My Book of Life by Angel (Martine Leavitt), We Were Liars (E. Lockhart), and Man Made Boy (Jon Skovron). Next up: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, because I talked my book club into reading a YA title for our next meeting!
I have to read a few pages of something before I fall asleep, so I do that in bed every night, but the rest of my reading time is catch-as-catch-can these days. With young kids, I don't get the long, luxurious stretches of reading time that I used to have. But I always have a book with me, and I read during ballet classes, in the car before preschool pick-up, etc. My daughter is reading on her own now (she's six), so sometimes I can get her to sit next to me on the porch and read our own books side by side. I love that.
What draws you to a book?
Something unexpected -- a plot or character or setting I haven't seen before. It goes back to my days as an editor: if something doesn't grab me in the first few pages, I probably won't keep going.
Do you ever reread books?
I do, although not as much as I used to, because my reading time is more limited. As a kid, I read the same books many times, sometimes ten or more. My copy of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach has tally marks in it, tracking my dozen or so re-reads. As a young adult, I read Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn every year, and then John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. I loved Alexandra Fuller's memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight so much that as soon as I finished it, I flipped it over and started at the beginning again.
Which YA books have had the most impact on your writing?
Lately I've been drawn to and inspired by books that weren't published as YA but have young characters and what feels like a YA sensibility: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls, The Radleys by Matt Haig. I read for whatever I'm struggling with in my own work, too -- right now I'm interested in well-developed settings in books like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and Sonya Hartnett's Thursday's Child.
Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos
All the Truth That's in Me, by Julie Berry
How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff
Funny Little Monkey, by Andrew Auseon
Hannah Barnaby holds an MA in children’s literature from Simmons College and an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College. Formerly a children’s book editor, she also has worked as a bookseller and a writing instructor. Hannah was the first writer to earn the Children’s Writer in Residency at the Boston Public Library. Wonder Show is her first novel. To learn more about Hannah visit: hannahbarnaby.com