How stories can teach your child valuable lessons

01 February 2018

Stories can open your child's eyes to the world around them and more importantly, teach them about the different experiences other children go through.

Award-winning children's author Kim Slater explains how she explores the difficult challenges the characters in her books face by stepping into their shoes.

My stories always start in the same way. The character voice always comes first for me and the main character is usually strong from the outset, although I wouldn’t claim they are immediately three-dimensional.

In my second book, A Seven-Letter Word, Finlay, the main character, has a debilitating stutter. When I felt I had a good sense of his character, I began to think about some situations he might find himself in. The only way you can hide a very bad stammer is to not speak, so I asked myself, what would be the worst place you might have to go? And the answer came; school. Because it’s a very difficult not to speak at all. So I have lots of scenes in school with challenges that Finlay is forced to face on a daily basis.

I always use the same method as I do to get inside any character’s head; I imagine I am that person. I think about challenges they may face and how it might feel. And after all, most authors are at an advantage when it comes to writing for children and young adults . . . we have all been there! So, for me, it is taking some time to think back, to put myself in that younger mindset once more and think how certain issues or events might feel.

In my latest book, 928 Miles From Home, there is a character called Sergei who comes to the UK from Poland with his mum. I invested some thinking time and put myself in Sergei’s shoes; he didn’t care about making a better life in another country, like his mum said they’d have. He was more concerned and upset about leaving his best friend, his pets, his grandfather.

I think these things would be uppermost in any young person’s mind and hopefully it gives the voice authenticity.

I’m interested in people and their stories. I like to explore how young people can be incredibly strong, triumphing against difficult challenges and circumstances. It is this interest and exploration that drives the stories I write.

Interestingly, although I have one grown-up daughter, Francesca, I am drawn to writing the voices of male characters around the age of fourteen, in particular.

I think it’s quite a profound time in a young person’s life. It’s an age when they begin to form their own opinions and maybe question others’ opinions too, maybe they start to think about what they’d like to do in the future for the first time when choosing option subjects at school.

Without doubt, this age can also be a frustrating time; difficult relationships at home and school and feeling more grown up but still getting treated like a kid. For an author . . . very interesting material.

There is also the consideration that younger readers tend to like to ‘read up’ a couple of years. I’d say my books are probably most popular with 11-12 year olds, so having a 14 year old protagonist fits just about right.

I tend to naturally write flawed characters who often have facets of their personality that are not so likeable – on the plus side, I feel this makes them seem rounded and more realistic. I want the reader to understand the protagonist, empathise with them; even if they don’t necessarily condone or agree with some of their behaviour.