Robie Harris Captures Powerful Emotions in her Children’s Books

Q&A with a Children’s Book Author, Robie H. Harris.  Ms. Harris is an award-winning children’s book author and National Reach Out and Read Board Member, her internationally acclaimed books include When Lions Roar, Who?, and Crash! Boom! The stories she writes include children’s powerful emotions and can bring some order to everyday moments of chaos a child may be feeling.

Could you briefly describe the process of how you write these stories?

I often write in the first person, the voice of the child. My stories are based

on the actual words I hear children say. Of course, I change their words some.

My process is to write and rewrite until I feel that I have captured the voice of

the child. My test is if the words I write sound authentic and ring true. If so,

that’s when I know I have finished writing the book I am working on.

Can you talk about the importance of including in your writing those strong

and sometimes scary feelings but also perfectly normal feelings that young

children have?

If we are not honest in our words, whether we are talking to or writing

stories for children, they will not listen to what we say or read. If we are honest,

they will. Even our young children pick that up and then we or our books would

have very little credibility with them…By dealing with the very strong, and

powerful feelings, everything from love to joy to fear to anger yes—hate,

jealously and loss—all those feelings. If we don’t allow those to come out in our

stories, then the stories don’t ring true. I hear but I don’t listen when people say

‘Oh, a child will be scared’ because I’m a believer, and certainly all kinds of

research shows this and child development shows this, that when children can

experience and express their fear then that’s when they can move on from it.

How do you come up with a way of expressing children’s fear and uncertainty in books?

Well, I took a class in graduate school called observing and recording

behaviors of young children. You will find that if I am on the bus, walking

through the park, or on the street, if I see a child, or I hear a child, or I listen to

a child’s words, I am pulling out whatever scrap of paper I have and writing

down their words and quickly trying to write what’s happening with the

child’s body. I see all sorts of ranges of emotions and ways they are expressed.

Suddenly, I might have an idea that there’s a story here to tell. And a story

that is about how you feel.

Can you provide an example?

“WHO WE ARE!”- You meet another kid for the first time. You may want to play

with the person right away or you may not want to because the person is someone

you never met or have seen before. You may feel curious or even shy or nervous or

surprised or a little bit afraid of someone you don’t know yet or looks different from

you. If you do play together, you might find out that something he or she thinks

is scary is something you think is scary. Or you might find out that something you

think is silly, he or she thinks is silly. And before you know it, you’re talking,

laughing, and having fun with each other. 

What is your favorite children’s book, why?

Heidi, Little Women, and The Tall Book of Fairy Tales. I was already a skier when I

read Heidi, and both Heidi and her friend, a young girl, as well as the

mountains drew me to that book. And of course, Little Women is about girls,

women, strength, and independence. I recently reread it and it still rings true. I

also loved The Tall Book of Fairy Tales. When I was a young child, I took that

book to bed with me almost every night. It was my blankie and my stuffed

animal. But it was a book.

To learn more about Robie Harris, listen to her on the ROR Podcast.