'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Guest Post: Ashling Kwok on Why Children's Books On Difficult Subjects Are Necessary

When I first started writing picture books, I was advised not to write books on sensitive subjects because publishers may not want to publish them. While I understood this from a marketing point of view, my logical mind couldn’t work out why difficult topics were taboo.

At the time, I was in the middle of writing Lola and Grandpa – a picture book that deals with the death of a grandparent – and I already had a clear ending in mind. It was suggested that Grandpa should go to hospital and recover instead of dying because this was an easier concept for children to comprehend.

For a moment I considered changing the ending but I couldn’t understand how this would be of benefit to anyone. I mean death is a part of life, right? It needs to be discussed in an open forum so it can be dealt with and understood.

I decided to do some research and found a couple of books that supported my theory - The Heart in the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers and The Important Things by Peter Canarvas. These books changed my life because they made me realise that difficult subjects can be addressed in picture books. They just need to be treated in a certain way.

I’ve always believed that children are smarter than we give them credit for. They are clever little beings who have the ability to embrace real life concepts and overcome enormous challenges. Children need to know that the world is not always okay, but they also need to know that no matter how bad it gets, there is always a way through.

Parents don’t always know how to talk to their children about difficult subjects and often hope that the problem will simply resolve itself over time. But as a parent, I know that problems and fears don’t just disappear. In a child’s imaginative mind, they simply manifest and grow stronger, and become even harder to deal with.

As authors we have are in the perfect position to bridge the gap between parent and child. We have the ability to unlock the secret door inside a child’s mind in a way that no one else can. We speak their language and know how to create relatable characters that children can connect with. 

Children’s books provide a safe place for children to explore their thoughts and feelings. They let children know that they are not alone and that other people are dealing with the same problems and experiencing the same emotions as them. Children’s books fill their imaginative minds with positive and nourishing messages that support their development and help them build resilience.

I’m happy to say that these days there are lots of books on the market that deal with difficult subjects. Personal favourites include At the End of Holyrood Lane by Dimity Powell, Mr Huff by Anna Walker, and The Chalk Rainbow by Deborah Kelly – picture books that deal with difficult subjects in a beautiful, heartfelt way.

I’m also delighted to say that I stuck to my guns and persisted with Lola and Grandpa. I decided that it was a story that needed to be told and that I just had to tell it the right way. I hope that anyone who reads Lola and Grandpa sees past the sadness and views it as a celebration of life. I hope they find comfort in the words and solace in knowing that they are not alone.

Ashling Kwok is a children’s author and freelance journalist from Sydney. She has two picture books due for release in coming months – Lola and Grandpa (Little Pink Dog Books) and The Battle (EK Books).

After graduating from University, Ashling went on to become a journalist and magazine editor, before setting up her own freelance writing company. Over the years, Ashling’s work has appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines, and she is a regular contributor to a variety of online publications. When she is not dreaming up new ideas or working on her latest book, Ashling can be found scouring local bookstores, marvelling at all the wonderful books being created by talented children’s authors.

For more information please visit Ashling’s Website and Facebook pages.