This is the time of year when lists of recommended spooky titles appear. I usually ignore them. I hate to be scared. I don’t watch horror movies or step into haunted houses. But last month I was going for a train ride and I wanted — needed — a book to read on the way. So I quickly grabbed one of my children’s old books, The Old Willis Place, a ghost story, by Mary Downing Hahn. The title was definitely not my thing, but I was in a hurry. Besides, if middle school kids could read this book, so could I, right?
Of course, the book included some spine-tingling moments and themes. But, all in all, it was actually not too different from the stories I like to read and write. It was about love of family and friends. It was about forgiveness and understanding. And it got me thinking: what other good books am I missing out on by avoiding stories with supernatural themes? So I read two more: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, and Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh. Again, a few edge-of-your-seat scenes, but, in the end, very well-written and satisfying stories that tugged at the heartstrings and addressed thought-provoking issues.
It felt good to venture out of my comfort zone and find myself pleasantly surprised at the result. After all, books are meant to expand our minds and open our hearts to new ideas and feelings. How can we keep growing if we park ourselves in one genre and never explore anything else? The same could be said about our writing. This summer I took an excellent on-line picture book writing class offered by the Children’s Book Academy. I learned so much about the craft of writing picture books. Specifically, I learned that writing picture books is very different from writing middle grade books. I’m glad to have broadened my knowledge and skills, and I look forward to continuing my growth as a writer. I might even take a stab at poetry next.
Nevertheless, it’s also important to know your limitations. I will continue to read and enjoy middle grade ghost stories, but I probably won’t write any. And I have no plans to ever visit a haunted house or watch a horror movie. After all, a person can only grow so much.