It isn't as easy as A B C. Writing for children is a lot more challenging then a lot of people would expect.
Children demand engaging, thought provoking and linguistically interesting books that capture their hearts and light up their imagination. As a writer is it difficult to know when your story is too simple or too complicated for your chosen age range, or even if your writing will appeal to your target age range.
I spoke to Carol Baker, a teacher with a passion for English Grammar who recently commissioned me to illustrate her own children's book; Armored Armadillo to Zippy Zebra – An alliterative anthology of animals
With Carol’s professional advice, I have compiled these 5 most important tips to writing for children.
Don’t preach or lecture
It’s tempting to put wholesome, life lessons into your book, especially if your story has a moral that is revealed at the end. But children know when they are being taught a lesson; and it’s too much like school. They spend much of their day being told what to do and taught how to behave, so young readers will shy away from books like this.
Try and avoid writing your ‘moral’ at the end of the story in an obvious way, and instead use the character and the story to show how the person has learned and changed. For example a book about a boy who never shares his toys may end with the boy learning to share, but instead of writing this as the boy’s Mum telling him, ‘Sharing is kind and the right thing to do, so you should always share,’ how about the boy finds out for himself that sharing makes him more popular and he prefers the friendships he makes more than his toys, leaving them discarded at the end of the book as he runs off to play with his friends?
Books that have good lessons hidden below the surface are much more likely to be fun to read, and children are smart enough to learn that this behaviour can benefit them too. When you find yourself preaching, ask yourself; how can I imply this without saying it outright?
Carol’s career as a teacher prepared her for this.
My passion has always been English grammar, and I particularly enjoyed teaching fairy tales and folk tales to children. Valuable life lessons and English grammar structures can be learned from these simple stories which many of my ESL (English as a Second Language) students grasped unknowingly as they began reading. A good teacher can make learning enjoyable.
Although “Armored Armadillo to Zippy Zebra, An Alliterative Anthology of Animals” can be read for pure enjoyment, many parents and teachers will appreciate the ways they can apply the book as a teaching tool.
Write from a child’s point of view
A great practice session for this is to listen in on children having a conversation without adults. How do they ask questions? How do they put their sentences together? Children have a unique way of interacting with the world around them, and they will find it difficult to read a book that is written in an adult environment.
A child will not only understand your story better, but they will also relate to your characters much more if they talk like them and think like them. Here’s a great example.
An adult might say; ‘Where does the sun go after sunset?’
A child might say; ‘Where does the sun sleep at night?’
If you are writing what you think a child should hear – stop right there. Go back and write as if you are immersed in the world of that child. Tables and chairs tower over your head, adults eat strange things and you can’t understand why pouring mud onto the living room carpet is so bad.
Don’t treat your readers like little kids
'But they ARE little kids!' I hear you exclaim.
Think about it. What child likes being told they’re too little and inexperienced? Young children love to think they’re all grown up. When they are reading (or being read to) they want to feel like they are powerful, respected and that the person telling the story understands them.
Children are a lot more intelligent and perceptive then most adults give them credit for. It’s a fine balance between giving them the opportunity to piece a story together themselves, working out something that they might not understand at first, and still keeping it simple enough that they can still follow the plot without getting frustrated and abandoning it. Carol Baker does this by providing some easy to pronounce, well-known words with new, more difficult ones that children can learn.
I knew I was going to choose an animal for each letter of the alphabet as the basis of my book, but it took me two years to decide what vehicle to use for showcasing these animals. Should I make it funny or factual? Should I make it rhyming? What age readers should I target? When I decided to give each animal an alliterative adjective, I saw alliteration as my vehicle.
Kid’s LOVE silly humour
While illustrating for Carol Baker, I slipped a pair of underpants into an illustration. Carol wasn’t keen on the idea and removed them to the dismay of her Granddaughter. After seeing her young test audience giggle so much when they saw the clothing, Carol decided to put the underpants back in.
It’s not just underpants. Snot, poop, bogies – if it’s gross and inappropriate, young kids will love it! Adults on the other hand, will have no idea what is so funny about it.
Don’t be scared to throw in a few rude situations in both your writing and the accompanying illustrations. If you’re unsure, test them out on a willing young subject and see if they laugh. You’ll be surprised!
Say more with fewer words
Children’s books typically have fewer words to play with; so don’t waste them. Make every word count by eliminating any words that aren’t essential to the story and use outstanding, interesting words that add to the atmosphere you are trying to create.
Carol Baker does this perfectly in her book. Without going over ten words per page, every single word she uses gives something to the reader so that the sound they make when spoken are pleasant to hear and conjure up the exact image that is needed to understand the meaning.
Tell the reader the important bits, and use the illustrations to show them the rest.
Carol's inspiration for her book came in a dream one night and a few years later she's selling copies of her book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as at local bookstores and events.
My book showcases entertaining and educational alliterative descriptions of real animals with beautifully detailed and colorful illustrations which include an “I Spy” feature that can be enjoyed by both children and adults.
I’m very pleased with this project! I have a brilliant illustrator, and I am proud of my alliterative descriptions.
You can your copy of Armored Armadillo to Zippy Zebra – An alliterative anthology of animals here; www.amazon.com
If you’re interested in getting a quote for illustrations for your book, you can email me to find out more! firstname.lastname@example.org