By Renee Runge
An age-old argument among children’s literature scholars is whether or not stories for children written and published by adults can ever truly be considered children’s literature – if adults are the ones setting the agenda about what children can and cannot read, can it be said that the genre is self-contradictory?
Questions like this aside, it’s always fun to learn that a popular book was written by someone the same age as the intended audience. Listed below are a few authors who achieved literary success in children’s publishing because they published stories as children themselves!
Authors Who Published Stories as Children
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Nancy Yi Fan
In 2007, Nancy Yi Fan took the world of children’s publishing by storm with the release of her debut novel, Swordbird, when she was just 12 years old. The story became a New York Times bestseller and earned her a spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show’s World’s Smartest Kids segment.
Swordbird, a story about rivaling cardinal and bluejay tribes at war, was inspired by a dream that Fan had while coping with feelings about the 9/11 terrorism attacks. She hoped to promote a message of peace and cooperation among the world with her story, which eventually gained a prequel and a sequel in the following years.
Did you know that young adult novels didn’t exist as a concept until 1942? We have Maureen Daly to thank for the creation of the genre. When she was 17, she wrote her novel, Seventeenth Summer, about a girl named Angie who has a passionate summer romance before heading off to college.
This was the first book ever written with a teenage audience in mind, and the fact that it was written by an actual teenager makes Seventeenth Summer one of the most authentic works of young adult fiction that we have today. Angie’s internal struggle with growing up and navigating through her first relationship may reflect how Daly saw the world as a teenager.
Perhaps one of the most popular young adult novels ever, The Outsiders was written when its author, S.E. Hinton, was 16 years old–only two years older than the main character, Ponyboy. Set and published in the 1960s, the book follows a gang of high school aged boys of low socioeconomic status holding themselves together through their close bonds and support of each other.
Despite being banned in many schools throughout the years due to its depiction of underage drinking, smoking, and violence, The Outsiders was recently selected as one of BBC News’s top 100 most influential novels. Following the success of her first novel, Hinton continued to write stories branching off of The Outsiders from the perspectives of other children growing up in similar conditions to her original characters.
The Inheritance Cycle series remains pervasive on the children’s literature shelves of bookstores almost twenty years later as young readers continue to enjoy the epic tale of dragon riders fighting for visibility and justice. Christopher Paolini was 14 years old when he began working on Eragon, the first novel in the series of four books.
In a world where dragons have been pushed to the brink of extinction, the young hero Eragon discovers a dragon egg and immediately forms a bond with the dragon that hatches, determined to save her species from the evil king who has killed off all other dragon riders and their companions in the country. After Paolini self-published the story, Florida author Carl Hiassen heard of Paolini’s work and helped him republish Eragon in the form we see it in today. The book was later adapted into a movie of the same name.
While perhaps not as well known as other names in this article, Daisy Ashford made the impressive accomplishment of writing and publishing a story at the mere age of 9 years old.
Her story, The Young Visiters, which was written in 1890 and published in 1919, tells the tale of a 17-year-old girl named Ethel who goes to stay with an older man named Alfred, the latter of whom wishes to become more gentlemanly. The two attend a reception held by a prince, and Ethel eventually marries a friend of Alfred’s. Ashford’s story is humorous largely in part due to the publisher’s decision to retain all of the childlike misspellings and original language used in her draft. It was found by J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, who helped popularize the book by adding its preface.
These authors should all serve as inspiration to young writers of today, showing that with dedication and persistence, no age is too young to start on the path towards becoming an author. We need to continue to encourage our children who enjoy writing to write as much as they can, because one never knows when success might find them. Who knows, maybe your child has already struck gold with their story!