Walking towards the WA Writer’s Festival Bookshop, after attending a full-house (670 people) Andy Griffiths session, we had to walk past the queue that had already formed to wait for Andy to sign their books. The queue stretched for 500 metres and was still growing by the minute. At the front of the queue were some of those who had been turned away from Andy’s session an hour before, once the Octagon Theatre was full. As we strolled along, discussing the popular Tree House books, written by Andy Griffiths and illustrated by Terry Denton, we overheard this exchange between a couple walking behind us.
Him: ‘Why are all these people queuing?’
Her: ‘For Andy Griffiths to sign their books.’
Him: ‘But he’s a children’s author!’
How often do we hear this disbelieving tone from adults who think that children’s authors are some sort of second class citizens? After all anyone can write a children’s book can’t they? True, anyone can write a children’s book! But how many people can get their children’s book published? Children are a very discerning, and often unforgiving, audience. For them it’s all about the story. And if the story doesn’t grab them in the first few pages – forget it. Andy Griffiths writes books that draw kids in, in droves. The Tree House series is flavour of the month, but Andy has written many other books which tackle issues that kids care about. His humour is outrageous, but the characters are very real. So much so that, in this latest series, he has written about himself and his illustrator, using their real names and describing the actual process of collaborating with each other, with Andy’s wife, Jill, and with their publisher, to produce books that sell by the hundreds of thousands. Kids appreciate this sort of honesty from authors, along with the zany humour of course. But its obviously not easy to get this combination right. It takes years of hard work and a great dollop of talent to pull it off.
Publishers admit that, apart from one or two best sellers, they rely on sales from their children’s list to support their adult publications. But I don’t suppose ‘He’ knows that, and he probably never will.