Keith Richards is writing a kids’ book, and frankly, I’m not all that excited.
Certainly, all the headlines make it seem like he’s performing brain surgery: at 70, the Stones guitarist is a five-time grandfather himself already! Stop the presses! Bring in the Dalai Lama or the Nobel committee!
But no, I’m not excited, and it’s not because he’s 70, either. I think you can write as good a kids’ book at 60, or 70, or 80, as anyone can in their 20s or 30s. So that’s not the reason I’m not digging Keith’s new project – as I’ll explain below.
It’s true – you can write a great kids’ book at any age, if you keep these two key tips in mind to make sure you come up with something great. Keith would do well to read these, but I honestly don’t think he will (hint: he’s not really planning to write the book himself).
Two tips for writers of a certain age
Here’s my open letter to Keith Richards, or any older writer:
Hi, Keith! (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis)
So you’ve reached a “certain” age, an expression used only by those of a “certain” age. And you want to write for kids. Your memories are vivid, maybe you have more free time than you used to, and you have great ideas to share.
Are you too old to start?
Should you do it anyway?
To help yourself get on track to dream up a winner that kids will love, here are two tips to help you make sure you’re on track.
- Make it about kids. Yes, many great books for kids that aren’t about kids. But if you’re just starting out, I really recommend putting a kid in the centre of your book and then keeping him or her there. Don’t let adults rescue him (I’ve written here about killing off the parents if you can) and don’t lose that child’s point of view.
- Keep lessons out of it. Once you reach that “certain age”, you have a ton of life experience, and that’s definitely a good thing to share. But HOW the sharing is done makes a huge difference. If you have a moral or life lesson that you need to encapsulate in your book, make sure it’s firmly embedded in a rootin’ tootin’ darn good story. More about why values wreck your book over here.
You have a lifetime of experience that younger writers envy, and perhaps even an ability to focus better than when they were young and occupied with the million hassling details of everyday life.
You have everything going for you – so there’s no reason your book can’t be great!
But as for Keith…
So… given all the encouragement I’d love to offer him, why do I think Keith’s book is not going to be a winner?
Called Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar, its title is promising because it seems like it’ll be about a kid, Keith himself, who as a child was encouraged by his grandfather, Theodore Augustus “Gus” Dupree, a jazz musician. But there is some danger ahead for Keith that leads me to feel not overly thrilled about the prospect of his new kids’ book.
Potential Trouble Spot #1 – perspective
Is it just a coincidence that Keith believes relationships with grandfathers are an important topic for a kids’ book… now that he is one himself? The same thing happened to Billy Crystal. Taking on a topic like this, he will have to be careful to write it from the child’s perspective, and keep the benefits to the kid clear, lively and interesting. No sunset shots of playing guitar together on the porch, except maybe at the end of the book.
“I have just become a grandfather for the fifth time, so I know what I’m talking about,” he says in this New York Times article. Maybe so, but he’ll have to broaden his perspective a bit to make it appeal to kids.
Potential Trouble Spot #2 – family member illustrating
The illustrations for the book are being done by his daughter, Theodora Dupree Richards, best known as a model. Apparently, she’s been to art school as well. I’ll withhold judgment on this since I can’t find any samples of her art online.
Potential Trouble Spot #3 – capturing magical moments?
Keith assured the New York Times that the book is “a story one of those magical moments” between kids and grandparents. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, magic can be a hard thing to get across in the scope of a kids’ book. He also seems to think the book’s theme is about “The… special bond, between kids and grandparents is unique and should be treasured.” Special bonds, like “magical moments” are nebulous things that had better be encapsulated in one heck of a lively story.
Potential Trouble Spot #4 – his book doesn’t exist.
Seriously, this is news? The very first thing I thought when I saw the article was… why the heck is he telling the world NOW? Though it’s scheduled for September publication already, the book has not been written yet. Nor will Keith be writing it himself. No, he “will be preparing the text with Barnaby Harris and Bill Shapiro.” Two co-authors, for a story designed to capture magical moments about a special, very personal bond. As with many celebrity kids’ books, I think this effort will fall far short of the masterpiece everyone will ultimately make it out to be.
So that’s why I’m not too excited about Keith’s upcoming book. But I still believe you can write great kids’ fiction at any age! As long as you write it yourself and keep my 2 tips in mind.
Are you excited about Keith’s book? What about your own future as a children’s book writer? If you’re feeling too old – how will you help yourself just jump right in?