Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

John Grisham Tackles Writing Suspense For Kids

Best-selling author John Grisham has written another legal thriller -- and this one is for kids.

Grisham has 24 books under his belt, many of which were turned into movies, including The Pelican Brief and A Time To Kill. But he says writing for a young audience created a special challenge, mostly because he didn't want to underestimate their abilities.

"It's not necessarily any easier than adult fiction," Grisham tells NPR's Michele Norris. "It's easier in that it's shorter; the plot is not nearly as complicated.

"But the biggest challenge I found was the ability to try to tell the story without talking down to kids. Because I think that's what a lot of writers do, and they don't like it. Kids don't like it. They want you to treat them as your equal and tell them the story."

The book, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, focuses on a 13-year-old only child who loves everything about the legal system. His parents are lawyers who have a small firm, Boone & Boone, where Theo also has an office. There, Theo gives legal advice to his friends -- and he gets into all kinds of trouble, Grisham says.

At first, Grisham says, he was reluctant to put Theo in actual physical danger, so he toned down his suspense. But an editor at Penguin who read his first draft told him it's OK to put kids in danger.

"I remember thinking back to my favorite book as a kid, which was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer [by Mark Twain]. And I loved that book, and I loved it when I was 12 years old. Tom and Huck were always in trouble, often in danger, and it made the story that much more entertaining," he says.

So Grisham says he added "a little more suspense, a little more fear, a little more danger" in subsequent drafts.

The suspense in Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer builds after someone in town is murdered. Theodore's classmate Julio, who is from El Salvador, lives in a homeless shelter where Theo and his parents serve food. And Julio's cousin, an illegal immigrant, may have seen something "that he was not expecting to see" at the time the murder occurred, Grisham says.

Grisham says in writing such plots -- and he hints that there may be another kids' book in the works -- he has to remind himself of the world he is portraying.

"Who am I writing for? I've never had to think about that before," he says. "With 24 books now, I've never thought about who the audience is. It's always been, you know, the audience, adult fiction. This is a lot different. I think this is a tougher crowd."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit