You might think that writing for children is easy – after all, the stories or picture books are short; you don’t have to devise complex plots; and you just have to re-read your childhood fairy stories and nursery rhymes to come up with ideas. Wrong. To write for children, especially very young ones, you have to worry about the things that interest their age group, the kind of words with which they are familiar, their level of understanding and so many other things that we take for granted when writing for adults.
This is particularly on my mind just now, as I’ve been asked by a publisher to write a children’s story, up to 2,000 words, for ages 3 – 6 years. The theme is racism and discrimination and it is one of the most challenging assignments I have ever undertaken.
I am still thinking of all the advice I remember for writing for children. First of all, read what you have written to a small child and watch the reaction. Ask him or her to stop you if there is a word they don’t understand. Watch the child’s face as you are reading and see , sentence by sentence, when he is engrossed or when his interest flags. If he starts looking around the room, you have lost him. Mark the parts that make him laugh, and those that need deleting.
Even for very young readers, you need to hook them at the beginning. Read the first pages of a dozen or more books for your potential age group in the library or local book-shop , and see how the child’s interest is engaged immediately. Draw pictures with sensory words so that the child can see, hear, touch, taste and even smell what you want him to understand. You know you have succeeded when the child asks you to read it again.
Now all I have to do is get to work, and take my own advice.