Write of Passage
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When it comes to writing stories for children and young adults, is anything off limits? For the past decade, in the Once series, bestselling children’s author Morris Gleitzman has been telling the story of Felix, a Jewish boy struggling to survive during the Holocaust. Gleitzman’s novels in this series – the latest of which, Soon, explores the aftermath of World War II – are rightly celebrated for their deftness of touch and emotional authenticity, and for the author’s ability to avoid trivialising the perspectives of the young.
From Once to books like Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, there have been a number of coming-of-age stories set during wartime aimed at children or young adult audiences. How are stories of war best represented to younger readers, and what is it about these classic coming-of-age novels – in which characters arrive at maturity often too early or all at once – that continues to fascinate and resonate?
Gleitzman will be joined by historian and writer Jordy Silverstein for a discussion that will appeal to readers of all ages, covering his powerful series and his reflections on the process of writing grown-up stories for children.
Morris Gleitzman is a bestselling Australian children’s author. His books explore serious and sometimes confronting subjects in humorous and unexpected ways. His titles include Two Weeks With The Queen, Grace, Doubting Thomas, Bumface, Give Peas A Chance, Extra Time, Loyal Creatures and the series Once, Then, Now, After and Soon.
Jordy is a historian and writer. She is the author of Anxious Histories: Narrating the Holocaust in Jewish Communities at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century (Berghahn Books, 2015), co-editor of In the Shadows of Memory: The Holocaust and the Third Generation (Vallentine Mitchell, 2016), and has been published in New Matilda, Overland and the Conversation.
‘Maturity’, according to Kurt Vonnegut, ‘is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists’. So why are we all so eager to grow up?
The continued importance and popularity of coming-of age stories, hungrily devoured by readers of all ages, is perhaps testament to the journey being more important – and entertaining, wonderful, and terrifying – than the destination. Stories of young characters trying on new political opinions, philosophical ideas, and sexual identities (all while negotiating friendships, cramming for exams, or saving the world) continue to fascinate us. As the market for young adult writing continues to expand, coming-of-age stories have never been in greater demand.
What makes for a great rite of passage story, and how have classic coming-of-age novels influenced our ideas of what it really means to ‘grow up’? What does the flourishing of increasingly specific coming-of-age subgenres say about the state of contemporary young adulthood – and what exactly is the relationship between coming-of-age narratives and broader YA fiction?
In our Write of Passage series, we’ll look at this energetic field of writing from various angles – ‘adult’ coming-of-age stories, work aimed squarely at young adult readers, and writing that introduces young readers to adult themes.