Writing for Children (Part 5)

Reading is the primary tool of learning—for the child and for you the author when writing for children. To learn more about a certain age level, go to the library and check out many books on the level you intend to write for. Read what they are reading. Also study the Internet and see what websites they are frequenting. Go to YouTube, Facebook, etc. sites if you are writing for teens. You cannot write for an age group if you don’t understand the members of that group. If you don’t like children, don’t write for them. Don’t try to preach at them—it won’t work. If you love children, then you are the one to write children’s materials.

To be effective with children and teenagers, you must know where they are coming from, what they are coping with. Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.

Teens and preteens today are facing problems at a very early age that we never had to deal with. Drugs are available everywhere, even in the grade schools and junior highs. Surveys show that the average age a child tries alcohol is 12, marijuana is 13. Many preteens as well as teens enter centers for substance abuse. Teenage pregnancy rate is very high in spite of the availability of preventive measures.

My oldest son had lost 19 friends in violent accidents by the time he was in college. Teenage suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people today. Two-thirds of all young people have been caught in a divorce situation, bringing them feelings of guilt and abandonment.

Keep all these things in mind when writing for children and teens.

Writing for Children (Part 4)

In writing for children, the first thing you must determine is the age of your audience. Are you writing for preschoolers? Are they 1-3? Are they 3-5? First through third graders? Fourth through six graders? You must mark your audience. Then, you must write to that audience. You cannot just write for children without targeting your work to a particular age. Most children’s publications are geared to a specific level: primary, junior, etc.

Then you must be totally in tune with the age level you are writing for. Know their likes and dislikes—use their language, but not words that are trendy and will be outdated in a year or two. And most of the time, you need to use words they are familiar with. Occasionally you can teach them a new word, but be sure to define it in context.

If you have children of your own or grandchildren, have them read what you write and critique it. If you don’t have children in your family the age you want to write for, find some children in your neighborhood, teach church school, or sponsor a youth group. Go to a playground or teen hangout—and listen!

Writing for Children (Part 3)

When you write for children, make sure the concept you are dealing with is a childlike concept, not an adult one. Many people want to write for children because they don’t like the way young people behave. This is a mistake. You must love children to be able to write for them.

Use as few words as possible when writing for children and use words that are in their vocabulary. Write concisely in all your writing, but particularly here. Write concretely with step-by-step instructions or events. Have your story follow a logical, sequential order, avoiding flashbacks. They are hard for children to follow.

Your story should teach a lesson, without being preachy. If you try to tell your young audience what to do, they will tune you out. Yet they can learn a great deal from your characters, climbing into their skin and experiencing what the characters experience. By doing this they can learn the same lessons the characters learn along the way.

I have found that writing for children is much harder than writing for adults.

Writing for Children (Part 2)

According to US Book Industry Statistics, 675 million print books were sold in the US last year. Although books sales are down, children’s book sales have remained constant. More than 50% of parents surveyed regularly read to their children between the ages of 0-5.

Children’s books usually have a longer shelf life than their adult counterparts, and Christian books have a longer shelf life than their secular counterparts. Many favorite children’s books have outlasted the life span of their authors: Black Beauty (1877), Heidi (1880), Treasure Island (1883), and Little Women (1868) are excellent examples.

Do you know who buys children’s books? 85% of the buyers are women 25-49. These books must be written for Mom as well as for Brianna and Lance. Also, girls will do what appeals to boys, and they will read about boys, but boys won’t read about girls for the most part, nor will they be interested in feminine activities. Know your audience.

Writing for Children (Part 1)

Why should we write for children?

Today there are more than 2.2 billion children in the world. Children represent 27% of the world’s population. The American population more than tripled during the 20th Century. There are over 328 million people in the US, and 74.1 million of those are under the age of 18.

Each child is a potential reader of what you write.

A study by the Barna group shows that 43% of children made their professions of faith before the age of 13 and that 2 out 3 Christians professed their faith before the age of 18. The study also showed that younger children who call themselves Christians are more likely as adults to describe themselves as deeply spiritual, give more money to the church, and engage in lifestyle evangelism.

We can teach children about God and Jesus, but they need to internalize what they learn in order to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They need to learn to own their own faith, and an excellent vehicle for this is books. We can mold these young minds and help develop their faith through what we write. What an exciting challenge!

 

 

Writing for Children (Part 18)

We can meet young readers’ real needs by meeting their felt needs. We can help our young readers to identify with our characters to solve their own problems. We can’t tell them though, we must show them. They will read and see for themselves. Please keep this in mind. It is so easy to preach at them, and then you have lost them.

Our young readers need to affirm their own experiences. They need to know that others have survived the everyday problems they are struggling with. Some need to learn not to take themselves so seriously. Others need to learn to be more accountable. Our main purpose in writing is to minister to young people.

Through our writing, we can show them there is hope and love. We can show them good biblical principles. Perhaps their faith can be strengthened, but like I said before, it is their decision, not ours. They must learn to own their own faith.

Perhaps, when you get to heaven, a child or teen will tap you on the shoulder and say, “Because of you, I am here.”

 

 

Writing for Children (Part 17)

How are we going to write for these special young people? Remember that they expect to be entertained. Our electronic world of TV, video games, movies, electronic devices, and endless vicarious entertainment has required nothing of them in return.

How can we grab their attention? How can we pass on a knowledge of the Bible and tell them about sin and its consequences? Many of them feel something is wrong only if it hurts or if they get caught. Haven’t you heard them say, “If it feels good, do it?”

How can we teach them not to abuse their own bodies? That God loves them and so do we?  How can we teach them to “own their own faith?” How can we help them deal with that biology teacher who is telling them information alien to their Christian beliefs? We can take them to church, write for them, and set good examples in our own lives, but they must make the decision to accept Christ into their hearts. We cannot make that decision for them. Therefore, we need to write materials for them that they will want to read—books and stories that will teach them to question, to analyze, and to think for themselves—materials that will bring them closer to Christ.

We do this by writing stories. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you must use fictional techniques to capture young readers. And fiction is the best way. These young people are not threatened by a pretend story. They feel books are an escape from the problems around them into a world of fantasy.

Writing for Children (Part 16)

The Differences            

Perhaps the easiest way to present the differences between a picture book, a first chapter book, and a junior novel is to show the same opening as it is appropriate for each. Taken from Gayle Roper’s Chapter 6 of The Complete Guide to Christian Writing and Speaking. Here is the juvenile novel version:

A Junior Novel

“That’s enough work for one night,” said Dad. He put his saw down and closed his tool box. “Be careful not to step in that hole in the floor.”            

I looked at the hole in my bedroom floor and wondered about the people who had lived here before us. How in the world had they made a hole in the floor? And why?

Did the father say, “Let’s have some fun tonight, kids? We’re going to have a contest to see who can make a hole in the floor first”?     

Every time I got up in the night, I had to be careful where I stepped.

“Come on, Scooter,” Dad said. “Let’s play some ball.”  I always enjoyed playing ball with Dad. Some of the guys in my sixth grade class would die before they’d play with their fathers, but I didn’t mind. Dad was a very good athlete for his age.   

I jumped in the car and landed on top of my sister Jake. “Oh, no!” I said. “I didn’t think you were coming!”     

“You don’t want me along because I always beat you,” she said.   

Unfortunately she was right. It’s incredibly embarrassing to have your thirteen year old sister wipe you up at the plate. “Isn’t it about time you started calling yourself Jacqueline and acting like a girl instead of a tomboy?” I asked not unkindly.  

I think she took special pleasure in beating me that night. We were ready to leave when I heard a strange noise coming from the tall grass that rimmed the ball field.

“Hear that, Jake?”

She cocked her head and listened. “What is it?”

Imagine our surprise when two of the fattest, fluffiest kittens you’ve ever seen came tumbling out of the grass. The miniature gray lion ran right up to Jake and sat on her feet. I picked up the white one with a black patch covering his eye. I don’t know how the cats felt, but for Jake and me, it was love at first sight.                

Notice how we get into the mind of our viewpoint character to a much greater degree. We know what he thinks and what he feels as well as what he does and what he says.

Writing for Children (Part 15)

The Differences

Perhaps the easiest way to present the differences between a picture book, a first chapter book, and a junior novel is to show the same opening as it is appropriate for each (taken from Gayle Roper’s Chapter 6 of The Complete Guide to Christian Writing and Speaking). Last week we presented a picture book. Here is a first chapter book scenario.

A First Chapter Book                                      Chapter 1

“That’s enough work for one night,” said Dad. He put his saw down and closed his tool box. “Don’t step in that hole in the floor, kids.”                      

The people who lived in our house before us had messed up the floor in my room, and Dad was fixing it.   

“Come on, Scooter,” said Dad to me. “Come on, Jake. Let’s go play ball.”      

“Coming!” I grabbed my jacket and my baseball glove. I jumped into the car and landed on top of my sister Jake and her bony knees. Umph!             

“Get off me, Scooter,” she yelled.               

“Get out from under me,” I yelled back. “This is my side of the car!” 

I stared at Jake and she stared at me. Then she climbed over to her side. “Thank you, Jake,” I said politely.  She made a face at me.      

Jake’s real name is Jacqueline Anne. I always kid her that she goes by Jake because she can’t learn how to spell Jacqueline. Jake’s one year older than me. She’s nine and in third grade. I’m eight and in second grade. Most of the time, Jake is a great sister.  Most of the time.      

Dad pitched to me first, and I swung as hard as I could. I missed.      

“That’s the way to hit the air,” Jake yelled.      

I made believe I couldn’t hear her. I knew I’d hit the next one out to her. Or the next one. Or the next one. And I did. I even hit one over her head. I cheered as she chased it.      

“Okay,” called Dad. “You kids switch places.”       

Jake and I were running past each other when I heard something. I stopped and so did she.       

“What’s wrong?” she asked.      

“Did you hear that?” I said. I pointed to the tall grass at the edge of the field. “Listen.” 

She tilted her head. “I don’t hear anything.”      

I walked to the tall grass and got real still. So did Jake. “There it goes again,” I said. “Did you hear it this time?”     

Jake listened hard. “Yes,” she said, excited. “I hear it! There’s something in the grass!”                 

Notice that there is much more detail in this story than in the picture book, but there still is virtually no thought or emotion developed. All is action and dialogue.

Writing for Children (Part 14)

The Differences            

Perhaps the easiest way to present the differences between a picture book, a first chapter book, and a junior novel is to show the same opening as it is appropriate for each. Taken from Gayle Roper’s Chapter 6 of The Complete Guide to Christian Writing and Speaking.

A Picture Book

        “Don’t step in that hole,” said Dad. “I’ll fix it tomorrow. Let’s go play ball.”            

          I hit the ball and Jake chased it. Then it was my turn in the outfield.  I heard something funny. “Listen, Jake. Do you hear that?” Two kittens tumbled out of the tall grass.   

      “Oh, Daddy,” said Jake, “Can we keep them?”     

       Andy, our collie, became the kittens’ mother.   

      One day the kittens were lost, and Jake and I couldn’t find them. Andy found them.   

     “Dad,” I said, “how do we get them out of the hole in the floor?”      

  

 All the missing details like where the hole was, what the kittens looked like, and where Andy found them would be obvious from the illustrations.

All the qualities that make good adult fiction make good juvenile fiction: conflict, suspense, pacing, focused plotting, complex characters, a strong beginning, a tense middle, and a satisfying ending.