The 5 Most Unexpected Things About Writing a Children’s Book

The 5 Most Unexpected Things About Writing a Children’s Book

by Desiree Villena


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Whoever you are, chances are high that you can fondly look back on certain children’s books from your early years. If you’re reading this now, you may be a reader who was so enchanted that you actually want to write a children’s book of your own. Congratulations! You’re going to play a part in encouraging and educating the next generation of readers.

That said, writing for children brings obstacles and rewards in equal share. Children’s literature is often thought of as “easy” to write, but writing a children’s book is actually a complex (though enjoyable) journey that requires as much effort as other genres. This post will make sure that this genre is no mystery to you by unveiling five of the most unexpected things you’ll realize in the course of writing a children’s book.

1. Your book’s scope may be different than you think

The first unexpected thing about writing a children’s book is the breadth of subcategories and age groups that you can write for. You will need a keen awareness of your target audience — after all, a board book for toddlers will look very different from a middle-grade bestseller.

Additionally, everything is fresh, new, and exciting in a child’s world, which tends to make them picky readers. You have to make your book seem like the most interesting thing that they can get their hands on. However, you will also need to grab the attention of adults, as they’ll be the people actually buying your book.

This might seem overwhelming, but with the right info, you can easily manage. Here are the main categories of children’s books to know so you can cater your story to the correct audience:

  • Board books are for children aged 0-3. Needless to say, you’ll want to include simple language and bright colors. These books usually have a durable surface to withstand biting, throwing, etc.
  • Picture books are for ages 3-6 and tend to be 500-1,000 words in length. They’re chock full of pictures, but that doesn’t mean they’re no-brainers to write! On the contrary, with so few words to tell your story, you need every sentence to count.
  • Early readers are for children aged 6-7. They range from 2,000-5,000 words and are designed to help young elementary school children learn to read on their own, though you’ll still want a healthy number of illustrations.
  • Chapter books are for ages 7-9. They can be 5,000-10,000 words and often serve as a child’s first opportunity to narrow down which genres they really enjoy! From children’s classics to slice-of-life adventures, this is where kids’ books start to focus more on story.
  • Middle grade books, for kids aged 9-12, make a big jump in length and sophistication — these books can be 30,000-50,000 words, are much meatier in prose and story, and often involve darker themes.
  • Young adult books are for ages 12-18, and can be up to 100,000 words with complex stories and advanced themes. In other words, well-written YA books are basically at the same level as adult books, presenting profound and genuine stories to their readers.

2. Children’s books are not always faster to write

The next unexpected thing about writing a children’s book is the sheer size of the project. Besides demographic considerations, there’s a lot that goes into writing (and illustrating) a children’s book.

Indeed, one of the great challenges is that it needs to tell a gripping story and (ideally) teach something while also taking up less physical space. We’ve all had the experience of writing an essay and then struggling to cut it down; as a children’s author, you will be doing this with a whole book. To help with this task, it’s important to find the perfect children’s book editor for you. They’ll keep your word count concise yet effective, getting your key points across even in minimal space.

If you want to include pictures in your book (particularly for middle grade books and below), then hiring an illustrator will also be high on your priority list. This is best done in coordination with your editor, as the text that you end up with will affect your illustrations. However, don’t include your own sketches if you’re planning to hire an illustrator or go through a publisher, as your eventual artist will have their own ideas — and they’re the expert, after all.

While children’s books are widely considered to be faster to write, most people don’t expect or account for the additional time and costs involved. But don’t worry, because in this case, the larger task definitely reaps a fulfilling reward.

3. Good protagonists follow a formula

Many of the most popular children’s books can be identified by their well-loved protagonists — think Harry Potter, Matilda, or Tracy Beaker. However, it may surprise you to know that there is a common formula to creating beloved children’s characters.

This is simply that children love to read stories about other children who are a) a bit older than themselves, and b) going through similar things. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter is eleven years old and attracts a readership of around nine — and though these readers won’t be going to Hogwarts anytime soon, they are experiencing a time of increased independence and are eager to strike out on their own, just like Harry and his friends. 

To be sure, don’t worry too much about your fantasy or sci-fi characters being “unrelatable.” You can absolutely still explore human themes like family values and ethics, while giving your characters magical abilities like moving objects with their minds. As long as you link your story back to a theme or lesson that’s grounded in reality, feel free to make your story as fantastical as you like. (And don’t hold back on account of the publishing industry, either — many authors self-publish their children’s books precisely so they can tell the story that they want to tell.)

4.Children can spot poorly written characters

Speaking of characters, this might sound obvious, but you need to make your characters and their conversations believable. Think of it this way: a child trying to imagine how you talk at work would inevitably miss the mark. Likewise, you need to get to know your target audience a little better — if you haven’t already — in order to write a realistic, interesting conversation between the young characters in your book.

This might mean volunteering to be a children’s reader at a library or helping out at your local school. If your friends and family have children, ask them to read your book too. With their seal of approval, you’ll know that you’re on the right track to making your target audience feel listened to and accurately represented.

5. Your book will last for generations

While there are many unusual challenges that come with writing a children’s book, the best unexpected thing is undoubtedly the lasting impact that your writing will have. Again, we all have a book (or several) that made us fall in love with reading as a child; many people cherish their favorite childhood books and return to read them often even into adulthood, eventually handing them down through generations of family.

This is a huge reason why some of the best children’s books, like E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Katherine Peterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, are still popular after decades. Adults love those books too! So, if you expect your book to only last for one generation of readers then you are very happily mistaken — and with any luck, this news will encourage you to finally get working on a children’s book of your very own.


About Desiree Villena

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She’s very passionate about helping authors reach their dreams, and enjoys reading and writing short stories in her spare time.

Autumn Picture Books for Preschoolers

Hello colorful leaves, pumpkin-spiced everything, and cooler weather! Autumn has arrived, and I can’t stop thinking about making up a batch of hot apple cider and cozying up under a blanket to read a good book. These days, to make that happen, I have to invite my preschooler in under the blanket and read his books, not mine. It’s a different experience. No getting lost in another world for an hour or two by myself. Instead, it’s rapid fire reading of children’s books that we’ve read a hundred times. Of course, that’s okay. The contentment of being together is enough to make these moments special all on their own. I am content to be by his side as he explores new worlds through books. But, if you’re like me, you’re probably ready to read something new for a change. Here are a few fall-themed book suggestions to help you and your little one transition into the autumn season.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

Apples and Pumpkins

Biscuit Visits the Pumpkin Patch

Autumn in the Forest (Lift-a-Flap Surprise)

We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt

Hello, World! How Do Apples Grow?

The Busy Little Squirrel (Classic Board Books)

Awesome Autumn: All Kinds of Fall Facts and Fun (Season Facts and Fun)

You’re My Little Pumpkin Pie

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Six Tips to Make Your Young Adult Story Sparkle

Six Tips to Make Your Young Adult Story Sparkle
by Eliza Brooks

TeenGirlReadingOutside

Did you know there are on average more than 30k young adult or teen fiction books published annually? This category is supposed to cater to 12 to 18 years of age. But despite its labeling, 55% are purchased by adults or those over 18 years of age. Even though this genre saw an increase of up to 120 percent between 2002 and 2012, successful teen fiction book authors claim that writing for this category is the same as writing for anything else. It all boils down to how good the writing and story are.

When was the last time you read a book you couldn’t put down? They say you can tell if you’ve read a good book when you get absorbed in the story. It’s when you get to see yourself in one of the characters and be carried away with the surge of emotions the main character gets exposed to as the story unfolds.

It is every author’s dream to create an experience like this for their readers. The greatest compliment a writer can get is to be appreciated for the way they write and tell a story. It takes skill and knowledge of writing techniques to write a great story that makes a mark on its readers. If you aim to reach your young readers in this way, here are six tips that can help you make your young adult story sparkle:

1. Stay True to Your Character’s Perspective

This seems simple, but in reality, could be quite challenging. The characters’ perspectives should remain in their young adult years. So regardless of how old you are at the time of writing, you need to make sure it doesn’t influence your characters. They are not supposed to display any wisdom of an adult. It requires extreme concentration and focus to make sure you don’t slip. It’s also a good idea to specifically look for problems with the perspective when you reach the stage where you’re self-editing your writing.

2. Be Sure Your Descriptive Language Focuses on the Right Elements

Young adult books often have illustrations in them. So instead of describing how the characters look, write about their emotions or actions. Describe what they see, what they feel, or how they move throughout the plot. How they react is an apt way of introducing a character’s personality or purpose in the story. Make sure that you invest time and effort in describing them through your character’s eyes or perspective.

3. Write “Genuine” Emotions

You want the reader to relate to what the main characters are going through. Make sure they can see themselves in one of these characters. According to John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, he gets several emails a day from readers who claim that they are like the female protagonist in the story. What makes teen fiction books entertaining to read is that they do a great job of detailing teenage or pre-teen experience. By effectively doing so, one gets to genuinely relate to these feelings, which makes the story palpable.

4. Let the Story Flow

As cliché as this sounds, it holds true – let it go. When you allow the characters to decide how to reveal themselves, writing the story can be a magical process. Authors will often tell you that each story has a way of unfolding on its own. Don’t attempt to control it. Let the story flow.

5. End Your Story on a Hopeful Note

Give the readers something to look forward to. Teen fiction books often end the same way. The main character may not have become victorious beating the challenges in the end, but he/she has evolved in a way that made him/her better. It offers the reader a chance to realize that no matter what happens, even when all seems lost, there is something bound to happen that will give meaning and drive change, despite how nominal, in one’s life.

6. Follow the Rules Regarding Word Count

Be mindful of the word count that’s typical for your genre, especially when you are just starting out. Remember, industry standards are often formed because trial and error has taught the experts what works and what doesn’t. Plus, you’ll have a better chance of being published when you follow the rules. After editing and cutting through unnecessary words or phrases, your story will come out stronger.

About Eliza Brooks: 

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Eliza Brooks is a passionate blogger who loves to write about travel, books, personality development, lifestyle, productivity, and more. She is currently working with CreedGriffon, which is an incredible book for tween and teen girls and boys. She spends her spare time hiking, camping and reading adventure, fantasy, mystery stories, and teen fiction books. Everything she talks about ends in books!

Review: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)


After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)
by Dan Santat
Published by Roaring Brook Press (October 3, 2017)
Ages 4 – 8

My Rating: 5 Stars

Review:

The original Humpty Dumpty story, like many old nursery rhymes, came about because of an historical event. It wasn’t really written for children at all, until Lewis Carroll adapted it, giving us the egg character we know today in Through the Looking Glass. Luckily, talented writers these days have more freedom than ever before to put new endings on stories of old to give them true relevance in our time.

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)
, by Dan Santat, takes a nursery rhyme that could be viewed as a cautionary tale (don’t take risks, you’ll probably fall and hurt yourself beyond repair) and gives it a new ending with the opposite message (conquering your fears, especially after failing, is the only way to live freely and reach your potential).

Written in the voice of Humpty Dumpty himself, we get to know just how the fear of falling again makes him feel and how it holds him back from doing the one thing he loves most: bird watching.

When I think of great children’s books, they all have one thing in common – the ability to convey the essential parts of the story, like a conflict that pulls you in and resolution that is emotionally satisfying, with just a few sentences and images. After the Fall moves effortlessly through the stages of a great story with emotional resonance and relatability.

After the Fall is a gentle reminder that when fear is allowed to rule, it prevents us from becoming who we are meant to be, whether that’s a soaring bird or simply a happy human being. It’s a terrific message for preschoolers, kindergartners and parents.

Other stories by Dan Santat:

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Review: Quantum Physics for Babies


Quantum Physics for Babies
by Chris Ferrie
Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (May 2, 2017)

My Rating: 4 stars

Review:

While I am a writer and lover of words, my husband is decidedly a science and math guy. Yin and Yang, on so many levels. When I first saw an article about Quantum Physics for Babies and the entire Baby University series by Chris Ferrie, I had one of those ah ha moments. I thought, this is what’s missing! Our book collection is comprised of stories about dinosaurs, farm animals, stuff animals and a few counting books, but nothing comes close to covering a topic like quantum physics. Why shouldn’t a baby’s book be about scientific concepts? And surely my husband would get a kick out of it.

Quantum Physics for Babies was certainly a novelty when it was delivered to our door. We had several conversations about the quantum physics because of it, and baby seemed to like it, too. He appeared to be intrigued by the pictures. Baby doesn’t have a real understanding of what I’m saying when I read this book, but seeing that he’s only 9 months old that’s true for most books. At this age, his language learning is all about exposure.

Baby’s just now beginning to show us his opinions, so we’ll have to wait and see if this one is a go-to book. Me, I’m looking forward to the conversation my husband and I will undoubtedly have when we pick up a copy of one of the other ‘for babies’ books, like General Relativity for Babies or Optical Physics for Babies. I’m bound to learn something, and something tells me the baby playing over on the mat, listening to mommy and daddy, will be learning something, too.

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Hot Item: Solar Eclipse 2017: The Complete Kids’ Guide and Activity Book for the Great American Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse 2017: The Complete Kids’ Guide and Activity Book for the Great American Solar Eclipse
by Science Across America
Designed by J.G. Kemp
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 7, 2017)

In a little more than a week, on Monday, August 21st, the United States will experience a total eclipse of the sun – something that hasn’t happened in the U.S. in 26 years. It’s an event that has a lot of people excited, especially those who live in states that are in the path of totality where the sun will be completely covered for about a minute or two depending on exactly where you are located. If you don’t live in the path of totality, you’ll still see a partial eclipse – still really cool!

NASA has a dedicated website that provides information and will have live video stream from different locations during the eclipse.

To make this rare event even more thrilling and educational for kids, former science teacher turned author, J. G. Kemp has designed Solar Eclipse 2017: The Complete Kids’ Guide and Activity Book for the Great American Solar Eclipse. It’s a handy guide to the basic science of a solar eclipse plus a bunch of activities and games that will make waiting for the eclipse to happen fun (it does take hours). It has maps, word searches, a mad lib, coloring and drawing activities, story starters and more. The book says the activities are geared toward children ages 5-11, but with a little help from parents or other adults, they can be fun for younger kids, too.

There’s still time to order this entertaining little guide and activity book, but don’t wait too long – the total eclipse happens in just 9 days. And don’t forget to pick up a pair of approved eclipse viewing glasses. The sun may go dark, but the light that escapes around the moon will still damage your unprotected eyes.

Happy Solar Eclipse 2017, everyone!

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We’re back!

You may have noticed that it’s been quite a while since my last post. A little over five months ago, our baby boy came into the world and turned our lives upside down in the best of ways.

Baby boy already loves being read to, especially at bedtime. When he was about a month old, I started reading a few of the best stories on our shelf. It didn’t take long for him to show that he had favorite pages, smiling in anticipation of some of them. Books with great rhythm and rhyme are the ones that really capture his attention.

Baby boy’s favorites:

Pirasaurs! by Josh Funk, Illustrated by Michael Slack

Read my review of Pirasaurs! here.

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Read my review of Steam Train, Dream Train here.

I’m looking forward to writing reviews of great new books again and getting back to the conversation about children’s literature and learning.

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Reading Resource: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Reading to a child regularly is known to improve his or her kindergarten readiness by increasing vocabulary, comprehension and a host of other skills. On top of that, reading to little ones supports their social and emotional development.

An at-home library, however small or large, is one way to encourage a love of reading at an early age. But, developing an at-home library can be difficult, especially for parents simply trying to put food on the table and provide basic care. 

I encourage parents to check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program delivers a free book once a month directly to your child. Children love getting mail that’s just for them, and this mail is a gift that can last a lifetime.

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Review: PIRASAURS!


Pirasaurs!
by Josh Funk
Illustrations by Michael Slack
Published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic (August 30, 2016)
Ages 3-5

My rating: 5 Stars

Review:

Imagine you’re the smallest and newest member of a raucous crew of Cretaceous corsairs. That’s right, you’re a little dinosaur and you want to be a pirate. You try and try, but to no avail. Then, one day you lead the way and deliver not only gold and jewels to your pack of prehistoric picaroons, but peace with a rival ship of seafaring dinos.

This is the kind of delightful tale you get from masterful storytellers like Josh Funk. Pirasaurs! is one of two new picture books from Josh Funk that were recently released just a few days apart (Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale is the other). With lively rhythm and rhyme, Josh introduces us to zany characters, such as Captain Rex and her “fabled sword” and Triceracook, whose food makes the crew “slurp and belch and burp.” It’s an imaginative story that’s sure to satisfy the most rambunctious crowds.

Real magic happens when you are able to combine a fun-to-read story that has a heart with colorful, expressive illustrations. Josh Funk and Michael Slack have created a sea-worthy vessel for little ones to explore themes like perseverance and cooperation. And, the journey is so fun, they won’t even know it.

Is your crew ready for a boisterous adventure with marauders from the Mesozoic Era? “Come join the Pirasaurs!

What else has Josh Funk written?


Check out my review of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast here.

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Checking Our Biases When We Check Out Books

Checking Our Biases When We Check Out Books

by Laura Koennecke
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The other night I was telling my son about a book I wanted to read to him called Little House in the Big Woods; it was one of my favorites as a child. He really likes non-fiction, so I told him that it’s autobiographical, explaining that meant it was based on a real person’s life. I thought that might stoke his interest. I’ve been itching to get him interested in a good story, but aside from Frog and Toad books, which are amazing by the way, and a few Dr. Seuss books, we mainly read facts.

I also told him that I especially liked that I share my name with the main character, Laura. He thought that was pretty cool.

As I was telling him about the book, a weird sense of doubt surfaced. I wondered if Little House was a girl’s book. I wondered if that mattered. After all, little girls read books with male characters all the time. My Side of the Mountain was about a boy, and I loved that book. I had no trouble identifying with Sam.

But there were other books that I read and identified as being girls’ books, like Misty of Chincoteague, even though it has both a boy and girl for main characters. That one I chalk up to the fact that most of the girls my age at the time were obsessed with their Breyer collections and all things horse-related.

So if I identify certain books as being girls’ books based on my own childhood reading, does that mean I shouldn’t read them to my son? Of course not, but how much do we unwittingly withhold from our sons this way. It really bothered me that I considered not reading him a great story based on a little voice that said it was for girls.

When my daughter was younger, I was always happy to see a strong female lead character. She latched right on to Tamora Pierce’s books when they were introduced to her by a grade-school friend. And as parents more actively look for female protagonists, they have a great resource for girl-empowered books in amightygirl.com, which provides characters from many different cultures that young girls can identify with.

This is great, but what if we also started reading stories to our sons with girl protagonists – asking them to see through another person’s perspective?

As the 48-year-old mother of a 6-year-old son (advanced maternal age I’m considered), I sometimes think there’s a cultural divide between myself and younger parents in their 30s. I worry that I’ll become the old person who says the awkward things at the soccer field, you know, uses the words that expose my outdated, uninformed biases like the drunk uncle at a family gathering that everyone rolls their eyes at.

After all, my childhood was firmly in the 1970s. And the fruits of second wave feminism were just starting show themselves. For my older sister to change into jeans after leaving the house was an act of rebellion and a strike against gender norms. Now everyone wears jeans and nobody thinks twice of it. She also wanted to be an auto mechanic and go across country with our cousin Karen who wanted to drive an 18-wheeler. This raised some eyebrows at the time, but now women are excelling in what used to be traditionally male job markets. And the idea that they wouldn’t is simply foreign to many women born in the 1980s.

It’s quite possible that younger parents don’t think twice about gender when they pick out a book, that deep into third wave feminism people don’t project gender norms onto their kids. They say to each other “Let’s get David this biography of Danica Patrick – he loves race cars.”

But we all know that for the most part that’s not true. Just look at the uproar Target caused by removing gender-based signs from their toy sections. Side note: For a fun response to that check out Renegade Mothering (unless you are satire-averse and don’t like salty language, then don’t).

Anyway, as the mother of a son, I’d like to see feminism work for him too. I don’t want him cut off from strong female role models, and I don’t want him walled off from the empathy that comes from reading about people who are not like him. Empathy can only help us all. So dear parents, young and old, maybe we can turn down the little voices that tell us what’s meant for boys or meant for girls, and use books to break down barriers instead of reinforcing them. Let’s loosen the reins and see what happens.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years. She first started contributing to Aunt Sheryl’s Book Nook in November of 2015 with her essay titled, Another Christmas Story. One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.