Do you enjoy reading to young children? Have you then found yourself thinking, "I have a story idea to write up just as good, or better than that!"
Maybe it's the artwork that fascinates you, and you are able to picture the illustrations that should go with each page. (One of my great distractions).
I wouldn't be surprised if you have considered writing, and perhaps illustrating children's books.
Seriously now. What would it take to write for kids? What would it take to get such stories published?
If you are like me, your next thought might be, "So who is stopping me? I'll just do some and learn as I go."
My first children's picture book happened in 1980, quite serendipitously. I had a new niece, named Jalise Maegelle Peters. I sat at my office job gazing cross-eyed through my glasses. I saw teeny-tiny rainbows and coloured rings that danced as I moved my head. Today I'm sure they were caused by dirt specks, but at that time I was so taken I decided to try to draw them and create a picture book for Jalise.
I had such a playful, imaginative time.
I called it "A Whimsical Textbook on Kisses" and had the pages laminated before I sewed them together and sent it to her for her first Christmas.
It was a hit. :)
Some years later I did one for her brother, Jasel, and called it "Dishwasher Tunes." He gladly helped me to do dishes when they came over to my parents' home where I was then the live-in-caregiver.
Jalise grew up and became a young mother, and soon was begging me for books for her kids. Although I've dabbled in it mainly for fun and as home-made gift books, I had another idea for a series of books for kids, and started looking into the whole matter of writing children's books more carefully.
Here are a few guiding principles I've gathered.
1. We should write what we know about well. That is, do not pretend to be experts in areas where we are strangers.
2. Rhyming ABC books, and talking animals are over-done. The editors are inundated with them, and very picky. We're better off to try something else if we want our children's book published.
3. Apparently editors are NOT impressed if I say all the kids and relatives just love it. They have other criteria they go by.
4. Editors don't have time to catch my intent and help me polish up the book idea until it is saleable. I need to be professional and have it down right before they see it.
5. I need to avoid hammering a moral home in the book. Kids are intuitive enough to pick up on any morals and a few things besides. So let them get it. We're to focus on the truth.
6. I must also be careful that adults don't rescue kids in my story. The kids must be responsible for their own solutions. (Hmmm. How does that play out in a miracle?)
7. There are some hot trends. Publishers want stories with ethnic characters, and stories from other cultures.
8. Write non-fiction books about things that kids are learning at school.
9. Write easy readers, or short books for kids (6 to 8) who are starting to read on their own.
10. Write chapter books, which are short novels broken into chapters for children ages 7 to 10.
11. Horror and spooky stories are hot for ages 8 and up too, but I'm loath to encourage the writing of these. We can discuss the reasons some other time.
12. DO: study and perfect your writing craft, learn about the children's markets, learn to write crisp, effective query letters about your ideas to editors, and keep on writing!
13. DON'T: settle for cliches, preach, talk down to kids, or assume that everything is as it was when you were a child. We've got to keep current, and persist.
This should be enough to get us started on our book projects for kids. The next article here will be on how to get such kids' books published.
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Ruth Marlene Friesen
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Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada