The Read Aloud Project
Carl Hiaasen on Writing Kids’ Books with Humor and Heart
Carl Hiaasen, a bestselling author of kids’ books including Hoot, Flush, Scat, and the brand-new Squirm, is known for penning stories with page-turning plots, humor, and true-to-life themes that are relatable for young readers. We were beyond thrilled to chat with Hiaasen about what makes writing kids’ books different from adult books, why he’s drawn to environmental narratives, which series got him hooked on fiction as a child, and more.
Your prolific writing career has spanned formats, genres, and audiences. What is your favourite thing about writing books for children?
When writing for young readers, you get to create characters who are viewing the world through fresh eyes, who aren’t as cynical or worn down as some grown-up characters tend to be.
So when someone like Billy, in Squirm, steps off the plane in Montana and sees mountains for the first time in his life, it’s almost a magical and unreal experience. Those kinds of scenes are easy to write, because I had the same experience.
Hoot and your other books for young readers center on environmental and activist themes, particularly when it comes to animals. Is this something you were passionate about as a kid?
I’ve been writing about the environment my whole career, in newspapers and in the adult novels. Growing up in South Florida, I spent way more time outdoors than indoors. It’s not easy watching a place as special as the Everglades get paved and polluted, so fighting to save what’s left of it has been a passion of mine since I was very young. It always will be.
You have a real knack for writing funny kids’ books. How do you know what will make young readers laugh?
Young readers laugh when you make fun of grown-ups who don’t behave, and I’ve been making fun of grown-ups like that my whole life in journalism. And these days, there is plenty of real-life material to work with.
What were your favourite books as a child? Who were your favourite writers growing up?
As a young child I spent more time reading newspapers than short stories, but in elementary school I got into The Hardy Boys series and from then on I was hooked by fiction.
At the time we didn’t have a huge selection of novels available for younger readers. There weren’t many writers doing mystery series, or any kinds of series, so I’d just read one of whatever interested me. I can’t say I had any favourites until high school and college, when I discovered John Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger, Hemingway, and Joseph Heller.