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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

When adults pick up a book for pleasure, they generally have some sense of the work and the toil the author put into those pages. That's not always true for young kids. And so, when successful children's book author Deborah Wiles goes out on book tour, she spends much of her time trying to explain to her young audience that books that they love don't just fall from the sky.

Wiles is the author of several popular children's books, including "The Aurora County All-Stars," and she's made it a mission to demystify the writing process for young readers.

Ms. DEBORAH WILES (Author, "The Aurora County All-Stars"): I think it's important because I want kids to know that every book tells a story. Every story comes from a real, live human being and that they have those stories to tell, too. And that those books are a labor of love, really, and that they take time. They take time to write, and they take dedication and perseverance, and that they can do this, too.

NORRIS: So if you're writing about characters that exist in your imagination, is there something that you have to surround yourself with so that you understand who these characters are? For instance, in the book "The Aurora County All-Stars," it's a book about little boys who play baseball, and one is named House and another one's named Cleebo, and House has a little sister named Honey, who has always got tutus on and…

Ms. WILES: Yeah.

NORRIS: …is ready to perform at any moment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Do you have to surround yourself with the kinds of things that remind you of who these little people are?

Ms. WILES: Actually, it's not so much who each character is, but what my life is because I'm a piece of every character that I create, of course. And so, I've got myself surrounded with mementos and memories and some photographs. And I wear, and I have it on right now - a necklace that has my mother's rings, my grandmother's rings, my great-grandmother's rings - just to remind me of where I come from because everything I write comes from my childhood and my life. I basically write for 10-year-old me.

NORRIS: You use your books to write about friendship and to write about the joys of childhood, but you also write about some of the tough stuff…

Ms. WILES: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: …intolerance…

Ms. WILES: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: …death, rejection…

Ms. WILES: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: …having to do what's right instead of what's easy.

Ms. WILES: Right. Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: Where and how does that sort of fit into children's literature? Is that the best place to teach kids these difficult lessons, to do it without even knowing that you're passing on those lessons?

Ms. WILES: I'm not sure that I know the answer to that, but I can tell you what I do. What I do is write about what matters to me. And what matters to me and mattered to me when I was a kid was justice, fairness, right from wrong, understanding and belonging, all those things that just meant - that pell-mell kid running through life and wanting those things and wanting to understand her world. I still write about that today.

We try and keep death from kids, I think, sometimes. And it's just amazing to me how many times I'm in schools, and children want to write about that topic. They want to write about when their dog died or when their grandfather passed, and they should be able to write about that.

And I tell them they can write about whatever they want. They can tell those stories because they define us, and they help us to become who we are -by telling them and sharing them.

NORRIS: When you speak to children, you give them little notebooks…

Ms. WILES: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: …and you ask them, while they're listening to you, to write down their own lists…

Ms. WILES: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: …to think about, as you're talking about the place that you write, what you like, what you remember from Mississippi, the way the air felt, the way the soil felt as it squeezed between your toes, that kind of thing…

Ms. WILES: Right.

NORRIS: …you ask them to write about this. Are you trying to also send a message that writing is not necessarily easy, and that's okay?

Ms. WILES: It's not so much that, and that's true, and we get to that while we're talking. And I do want them to understand that because they think that it's so easy. They've written one thing down and they go, done. You know, they don't want to revise, and we get into revision as well.

But the real reason I'm doing that is because I want them to make the connection that, oh, I've got this in my life, too. I have a little sister. I have a rotten little brother. I have a grandmother who did - painted the house pink with me, or I have whatever it may be. I could write about that, too.

So I ask them to list their lives from their emotions, from their head, from their heart and from their gut, and to see what stories they have to tell, this personal narrative writing that they must do in schools anyway. It's required. But why not take something you really care about, something that you really connect to, and tell your story.

NORRIS: Deborah Wiles, thanks so much for coming in to talk to us.

Ms. WILES: Thank you so much. This was fun.

NORRIS: That's children's book author Deborah Wiles. And to hear more of that interview, and to hear Deborah Wiles read from "The Aurora County All-Stars," go to our Web site, npr.org.

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