Writing for Children

Writing for children appeals to people for many reasons: 

  • a chance to influence the next generation 
  • an opportunity to revisit personal youth
  • loyal readership

Some people mistakenly think writing for children is easy, 
or at least easier than writing for adults. 

It's not. 

It's much like writing poetry. Fewer words do more work.

Although writing for children requires hard work, children's authors believe the rewards are worth it. 

Follow these tips and join the group of successful children's writers.

Writing for Children Tip #1:  
Read children's books

Lots of children's books.

Successful children's authors set aside time to read children's books regularly. 

Especially read books similar to the book you are writing. 

Read thoughtfully. Read with these tips in mind. Notice how the author has used them. Ask yourself what makes a particular book work. How can your book improve on what is available?

Writing for Children Tip #2:  
Get to know your local children's librarian

A librarian can be an author's best friend. A children's librarian 

  • is specially trained in children's literature 
  • has access to the latest and best work 
  • knows what children are reading 
  • knows what is available and where there are gaps in topics that your book might fill.

Ask the librarian to recommend books to read. You will save time and have expert help choosing the best titles.

Writing for Children Tip #3:  
Become a child watcher

If you have children, grandchildren, or nieces or nephews, you have a great advantage. If you have no regular contact with children, become a volunteer.

Schools and clubs welcome those who want to help. You may need to undergo a criminal records search. This is to protect the children. 

Become a close observer of 

  • what children do
  • how they talk
  • what they wear 
  • what they wonder or worry about
  • what they fear, find funny, want to know.

Respect the children you observe. If you volunteer, keep what you see and hear confidential. You are gathering data; use it ethically. That means you will not identify a specific child in your writing. 

There are child predators out there. Do not leave yourself open to accusation. Never go off alone with a child. Keep your hands to yourself. Make sure if you are sitting watching a group of children that an adult knows what you are up to. Introduce yourself as someone writing for children and ask permission to observe the children under the care of the adult.

Writing for Children Tip #4:  
Know your audience

In traditional publishing, children's books are often classified by the age of the targeted reader. Topic, word count, vocabulary, and sentence length are important aspects of children's books determined by the readers' age. There are no hard and fast rules, but there are general guidelines. Reading children's books will give you a sense of what works for each age group.

In general, shorter words and shorter sentences are easier to read than longer ones. Most important when writing for children is to make your language predictable. Children use what they know about spoken language to guess what word will come next. (So do you and I for that matter.) If you fulfill their expectations, you will make the reading easier for them and they will return to your book with joy and a sense of empowerment.

If the children are beginning readers, you can help them by repeating words or phrases. Think of The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Little Red Hen. Natural rhythms and repeated phrases make these stories relatively easy to read. 

You are writing for children but the other audience to consider is the adult who will buy the book. Especially if the book is a read aloud, a book an adult will read to a child, it must appeal to the adult as well as the child.

Writing for Children Tip #5:  
Create interesting characters

Children prefer to read stories about characters one or two years older than they are. If you write for a four year old, the most appealing main character will be five or six years old.

Children are not interested in stories about adults.

Keep adults in the background. Children want to know that it is possible for a child to be powerful. You might think figuring out how to pay for your hot lunch is no big deal, but if you are six, and in a new school, that's a life challenge equal to applying for a new job. Making and keeping friends, staying safe from imagined or real monsters, choosing virtue over vice, separating from family (going to kindergarten or summer camp), balancing time between separated parents, children face challenges every day. Good literature shows them how someone like them deals with life. The story gives them hope they can overcome obstacles, too. If you send in the cavalry in the form of mom and dad or the teacher, you steal the child's chance to grow.

Your main character needs realistic strengths and weaknesses. Children realize that no one is all good or all bad. Besides, your story will work best if the problem and its solution relate to the character's personality.

Limit the number of characters. Children's writing covers an age range from infancy to adolescence. The younger your reader, the fewer characters you should introduce.

Writing for Children Tip #6: 
Use a simple structure

In fiction, this means keeping the plot chronological. When writing for children, flashbacks are too complicated for most audiences.

Although The Rule of Threes is not written in stone, it is written into our psyches. Think of all the folk tales in which there are 

  • three brothers or sisters 
  • three wishes
  • three tasks
  • three days.

Three attempts to solve a problem will usually satisfy a young reader.

Non-fiction may not have a plot in the same sense as fiction, but unless you are writing a telephone directory, you still need a story with a problem to solve and a beginning, middle, and end. And do notice that the telephone directory is highly structured.

Writing about toothpaste? From whose point of view? What problems need to be overcome? 

Writing about bearded dragons? Wild or domesticated? What are the challenges they or their owners face?

Writing for Children Tip #7:  
Let the story make the point

"Show, don't tell," the first lesson in most writing courses, is critical when writing for children. Let the story give the moral lesson. Resist the urge to end with, "So little children, we can see that telling lies is bad and will get you into trouble."

If you feel your pointer finger wagging in your reader's face, STOP!

Reread your story. Is your message clear without the sermon? If not, change the story to make it clear. Adding a moral on the end of a weak story does nothing to improve the story. And it makes it highly unlikely a child will willingly go back to your book.

Tell a good tale, and a child will read it over and over, ponder it, and be influenced by its message.

Writing for Children Tip #8:  
Uses concrete detail

Children are curious about the world. Sensory detail appeals to them. So does direct dialogue. 

Dialogue breaks up long stretches of text. White space on a page appeals to children. It makes them believe they can read the page themselves.

Well-written dialogue gives the sense of being in the scene. It shows character, moves the plot along, and keeps a young reader engaged much better than long descriptions will.

Writing for Children Tip #9:  
Find an illustrator

All children's books except novels for the oldest juvenile readers have some illustrations. Many people buy a book for the illustrations alone. 

The best children's book illustrators demonstrate skill and insight equal to that of any other professional artist. One year my Grade one class wrote a letter to their favorite illustrator asking her how she made her pictures. I was impressed by the months she spent in research to make her illustrations lifelike.

You probably aren't going to hire her. But unless you are a good artist yourself, consider hiring someone with expertise.

When I started my business, I wanted a logo. I contacted the local high school art teachers, explained my project, and asked them to recommend students. I held a contest by invitation only. I got a great logo, and an art student got a cash award and a piece of work for her portfolio. If you have access to a fine arts school or a university fine arts department, consider doing something similar.

Writing for Children Tip #10:  
Use all the other tips on this site

This page focuses only on tips specific to writing for children. These tips are meant to build on, not replace, the general writing tips. 

I would be honored if you considered me a potential editor for your children's book. 

I offer 

  • sample edit of 500 words, 
  • guaranteed quote on the job we agree you want, 
  • a passion for sparkling prose
  • years of experience teaching young readers in public schools, and 
  • experience editing and being edited.

I'd love to do this over tea, but since this is cyber space, meet me here.

This page gives a brief over-view of the principles of writing for children. 

Boost your creativity in finding new children's book ideas with the help of a Hollywood film writer.

Other articles related to Writing for Children

Non-Fiction Features of Children's Books to Nail You the Contract 
General Writing Tips 
Book Review of 78 Reasons Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might 
Free Course on Writing Verse for Children 
Get a sample edit 

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This is Jack Popjes and one of his published books. He and I worked on multiple projects. He's  met many goals.

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