Writing 'real books' for kids: Paul Many speaks at library program

Written by David Green.


Paul Many says he enjoys going out to speak in small towns like Morenci.

“It give me a chance to defend myself.”

But why does a successful author need to launch a defense? It’s because of what he writes, Many explains. He deals in the genre known as “young adult fiction.”p_many

Young adult books—aimed at youngsters from 12 years and up—aren’t considered “real” books by a lot of people in the writing establishment, Many says, but there’s one phenomenon that erupted onto the literary scene a couple of years ago that’s helped change all that: Harry Potter.

Suddenly there were thousands of adults reading fiction written for their children, and they discovered it can be very good.

Several established writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon, Clive Barker and Isabel Allende, have recently written for the younger set, and it’s all helped Many gain some respectability as an author.

One reviewer had this to say about Many’s third book, My Life, Take Two: “This is a real novel.”

“As if I were writing chopped liver,” says the New York City native who now teaches at the University of Toledo.

But he’ll accept the compliment, knowing there’s at least one more awakened critic. The positive review could lead to dozens of new readers, as well.

“I’m glad when kids are reading anything these days,” Many said Saturday at the dedication of the Liz Stella Annex at Stair Public Library.

Comic books, cereal boxes—anything to grab their interest.

Many didn’t start off in the field of young adult books.

“I wrote three adult novels first,” he said. “Fortunately, none of them were ever published.”

Many says he follows the old adage about fiction writing: You tell the truth until you have to lie.

“I base my books on experiences that are real to me,” he said, “real experiences that have emotional impact.”

Three novels

Many’s first published book, These are the Rules, follows a bumbling, sensitive teenager trying to figure out the rules of life—dating, driving, girls, the future. The lead character believes all his experiences are mistakes, and every chapter leads to the recognition of a rule of life.

Teen readers recognize the troubles of the lead character in the humorous, first-person narrative as they, too, try to figure things out in their lives.

That book, says Many, is about finding relationships. The second, My Life, Take Two, is about finding your place in life.

Stories from this book arise from tales he’s heard from students about exploring the woods and trails of Wildwood Metro Park when it was still the estate of a wealthy industrial family. Menacing caretakers were hired to chase away the trespassers. They would track them down on horseback and shoot at them with pellet guns.

“That was back when you could shoot kids legally,” Many jokes. “Don’t try it anymore.”

Again, Many uses humor to tell the story of an outsider who first tries to fit in but eventually learns to become comfortable with who he is. In many ways, the story parallels the author’s teen years in Queens.

Many’s most recent novel, Walk Away Home, tells the story of a troubled boy who doesn’t run away from home, but walks away.

“At one time the whole world was within walking distance,” Many said. “It had to be.”

Many, himself an avid walker, follows Thoreau’s advice for this story: A person will have a much richer experience by walking to a destination than by spending the time required to earn the money to buy a train ticket.

In between Many’s last two novels, he produced a picture book, The Great Pancake Escape. At least he produced the words. Many never met the illustrator, who lives in Hawaii.

Odd things happen when a magician uses a magic book instead of a cookbook while making breakfast for his family.

It’s a short book, but it was long on production, Many said. The editing process is short compared to a novel, but still he ended up with about three and a half inches of paperwork before the book became a reality.

Picture books are fun to make because of the quick turn-around time, Many said, and also because he knows people will be more apt to jump in and read.

“When you write a book that’s 28 pages long, people read it.”

    –Nov. 27, 2002 
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