It's the type of writing that requires an author to make a grand statement with few words.

And no, it's not poetry.

With books not much longer than 30 to 40 pages and not much more than a sentence a page, authors like southern Arizona's Byrd Baylor rise to the challenges of writing children's literature. The audience has an age range of 4 to 8 years old, so the ideas have to be simple, entertaining and profound.

Baylor joins a handful of other authors at this year's Northern Arizona Book Festival who write for children and young adults. She's penned more than 25 children's books with titles like "Everybody Needs a Rock," "The Table Where Rich People Sit" and "I'm in Charge of Celebrations."

Like a number of children's authors, Baylor started writing for adults and evolved into writing for children. She wrote a number of short stories and a novel set in Tucson, located north of her hometown of Arivaca, before finding herself writing for a youthful audience.

"I like children's books because in them I can talk about the things I think are important," Baylor said by phone. "What I'm saying is simple enough for kids to understand."

Baylor writes children's stories that evolve from basic ideas, and she mainly focuses on "momentary delights" that children and adults alike can sometimes miss.

In "The Table Where Rich People Sit," the children in the book complain to their parents that they are poor, so the parents start placing prices on daily occurrences like sunrises and clouds and rainbows. Soon, the children learn that they are rich in a different way.

"A lot of times it's the adults that make the children materialistic in their values," Baylor said, noting that she tries to focus on the value of nature and simple joys. "And in a lot of ways, children are taught to prepare for something far away and they lose track of those momentary delights."

Baylor also likes to write about the desert, a lot. Her books often have coyotes, ravens, whirlwinds and cacti that play a role in telling the story. In her first children's book, "Amigo," a young boy befriends a prairie dog and works to tame it. But the prairie dog teaches the boy some lessons as well.

That book, which came out in 1987, was illustrated by Garth Williams, famed artist of the children's classic "Charlotte's Web." Baylor said that new children's authors are often paired with well-known artists to help a book's success.

Since then, Baylor has mostly partnered with Peter Parnell, who has illustrated a number of her well-known titles including "Hawk, I am Your Brother." She said she writes the story and then the artist draws inspiration, so to speak, from her words.

Most of the time, this arrangement works, but sometimes Baylor does not like the illustration because it does not capture the spirit or it's just not accurate.

"Once, there was an illustration where the new moon was facing the wrong way," Baylor said. She called the office where the artist worked in New York and a woman answered the phone. "She said, 'Don't you think that should be up to the artist?' I said, 'No, I think it should be up to the moon, actually.'"

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As far as advice for those who are interested in writing children's literature, Baylor said most of the best advice "is the advice that comes from yourself." She did encourage writers of young literature to not be afraid to introduce children to new words.

Often, children's books use a limited vocabulary to stay in step with the reading level.

"I think you do children a favor by introducing them to words they don't know," she said.

Baylor will serve on the panel discussion on "Writing for Children and Young Adults" Saturday at 1 p.m. at city hall and will read Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Orpheum Theatre. She hopes to share her unique and simple perspective with both children and adults.

"Really, what a lot of people need is to know that there are more than two or three ways to look at life, and some of them might be valid," Baylor said.

Reporter Seth Muller can be reached at 913-8607 or

— Arizona Daily Sun

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