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Jennifer Holm on finding the kids’ point of view in historical fiction

Author Jennifer Holm says you have to remember the storyline and create characters that are compelling to kids.

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Jennifer Holm

Fiction, Graphic Novels

Jennifer Holm

Jennifer Holm has always loved reading. She recalls this: “One of our neighbors said that his clearest memory of me as a child was watching me rake the lawn one-handed while I read a book with the other!” Holm has co-authored a series of graphic novels featuring a mouse (Babymouse) and an amoeba (Squish) and created a feline version of James Bond (The Stink Files). She has also published several Newbery Honor-winning historical fiction novels for middle grade readers inspired by stories from her own family.


When I write my historical fiction books there’s … there’s constantly a little battle in my head between all the historical research and then keeping this story. And I always have to actually force myself to remember that the most important thing is the story. That you need to be engaged with the character. You need to feel really invested. But I think most historical fiction writers fall in love with all the little aspects of history. We love the research. We … we could spend, you know, days in a library or an archive or fall down a rabbit hole on the internet, you know, looking at something at the Library of Congress. You know, just to find one little fact that somebody might not even pick up on. And so my process … when I am researching my novels I usually, I look for the details that would affect kids. Like what … what are important to kids at the time. Not necessarily what’s the big events going on in the world, like war or something like that, but really what’s the kids’ point of view. And usually kids … the kids’ point of view are all about what’s going on in their life, you know. What are they eating? What are they smelling? What are they playing? What are their everyday circumstances? Who’s their family? What are they listening to on the radio? What are they watching on TV? Like, just little things like that. What are they wearing, you know? What is their everyday life like at school? What does their classroom look like? So, it’s really those basic things. I try to just remember what is it to be 10 years old, 11 years old and what’s important to you at that age. I like the 10, 11, 12 to write from that. That’s like my sweet spot. I like remembering those ages. I don’t particularly enjoy remembering like 14, 15, 16. I just remembered that’s when things seem to get more complicated and difficult and, you know, classic awesome growing up things. So I like to remember the earlier part of the the tweens. When I was a tween I was kind of a tomboy and I had four brothers, so I’d like to do with the boys did and I like to play kickball with them and we would play Dungeons and Dragons. So I did a lot of the stuff the boys did. You know, read comic books. And I do remember, like, the older you got the little … more socially unacceptable some of those activities became.