Interview by the Young Adulting Editors
Tanya Lloyd Kyi is the author of more than thirty books for children and young adults. She writes about science, pop culture, and curious combinations of the two. She’s also a lecturer with the UBC School of Creative Writing and a frequent presenter to schools and libraries.
What drew you to writing for kids and young adults?
It was a happy accident. I found a job after university at Whitecap Books, which at the time published children’s titles. I quickly fell in love with information books. My first books came out in the early 2000s, at a time when the new availability of information online was disrupting traditional non-fiction publishing. Kids no longer needed encyclopedia-style reference materials. They needed information books that could capture their attention and spark their curiosity. And I just happened to be a curious person.
You’re the author of over 25 books. What strategies have you found helpful in maintaining a consistent writing practice?
You need to be fairly tenacious to maintain a writing practice and stake out your time. (Hmm… real stakes would have been useful, some years.) I try to write first thing in the morning, before I check my email, before I check Twitter… before the worries and demands of the real world infringe on my time. It’s easier said than done!
You’re the coauthor of two books coming out in 2022: Our Green City with Colleen Larmour, and Better Connected with your daughter, Julia Kyi. What was it like collaborating with your daughter on a book, particularly a book about social media?
My daughter is smarter than me. I may as well admit that now, because the world will find out soon enough. She wants to go into politics. Whenever I complain about some bureaucratic issue, she says, “Don’t worry, that’s one of the systems I’m going to dismantle.”
Anyway, I was sitting at the breakfast table one morning, mulling over a book about the positive aspects of social media. She reeled off so many ideas, it was obvious she should be the one writing the book. And I think we were both shocked that we managed to get along so well throughout the writing and editing process.
Julia heads off to university this fall, so the book is out just in time for us to celebrate together.
Have your interests as a writer changed much since you started publishing? What topics have you been drawn to recently?
When I began writing, I chose topics that sparked my own curiosity. And I still do. But I also like topics that will prompt kids to think critically about the world. There are such major, existential issues facing humanity right now. But throughout history, there have been dedicated, obsessed scientists and activists and leaders who have managed to change the world. I think it’s important for kids to know this is possible. That individuals can make huge differences.
Books for children and young adults have been subjected to increasing levels of legal attack lately. What do you think we as adult readers, writers, and editors can do to make sure that kids are able to read and learn freely?
Too often, “keeping kids safe” is used as code for banning books by members of diverse and underrepresented communities.
The voices of censorship are loud. Like, truck-horn loud. And we book people are not naturally shouty types. But every single one of us needs to speak up and stand up in support of kids’ freedom to read. We need to write to our school librarians, so when one parent complains, the librarian has a stack of fifty supportive letters to hold up in defence. We need to turn up at school board meetings and PAC meetings (in advance of issues, when possible) and write to our politicians. We need to offer our financial support to organizations curating amazing books from underrepresented communities and working to unite kids with the books they need — organizations such as the Festival of Literary Diversity, Freedom to Read Week, PEN Canada, and We Need Diverse Books, to name a few.
Most importantly, we need to buy, read, and review challenged books, and talk about them with the kids in our lives.
We don’t all have to do everything. But we could all – every single one of us – start this week by writing one letter. And together, our voices will be loud, too.