Write a Children's
Book in 14 Days
When writing for children, it's very
tempting to use fiction as a vehicle for teaching
important life lessons. And while there's nothing wrong
with this, the author's desire to impart wisdom earned
from years of experience can easily become heavy-handed.
Storytelling that degenerates into didacticism can appear
in fiction for any age, but it's most glaring in picture
books where the spare text makes the lesson stand out.
The trick, then, for any writer, is to recognize the line
between teaching and preaching.
Teaching raises the lesson or concept to the reader, and
allows the reader to discover the answers for herself.
This is generally done through the story's main
character, who learns something because of the situations
he encounters in the plot. Preaching offers no reader
involvement--the author tells the reader what to think,
and expects the reader to believe it simply because the
author said so. Preaching is like getting unsolicited
advice, which no one appreciates.
Kathleen Allan-Meyer employs very gentle teaching methods
in her Little Bear picture books. Little Bear,
who represents a typical 5-year-old, encounters all sorts
of kid-like situations that require him to think about
his actions. The author has Little Bear's mother plant
the seeds for change with a parental observation
("In order to find a friend, you must be a
friend." - from "Little Bear's Secret",
and "Not everything in the world is fun and easy.
Important things take hard work." from "Little
Bear at Big School").
Mother Bear doesn't tell Little Bear how to think or
act--that's up to Little Bear himself. He chooses whether
to follow this advice, makes some mistakes, and finally
learns in a way that's meaningful to both him and the
reader. Because Little Bear ultimately decides to make
the change, he keeps his self-respect and learns a lesson
he can use over and over.
Many skillfully-written picture books have a lesson
that's so subtle it's not literally included in the text,
but rather felt by the reader. In "The Biggest,
Best Snowman" by Margery Cuyler (Scholastic),
Little Nell is told by her family (BIG Mama, BIG Sarah
and BIG Lizzie) that she's too small to help around the
house. When her friends (Reindeer, Hare and Bear Cub) ask
her to show them how to build a snowman, her first
response is that she can't. But with a bit of
encouragement (and help), Little Nell builds the biggest,
best snowman ever. Any child who's ever felt overlooked
by the big kids will come away from the book feeling
inspired to reach for her dreams, and will learn that
friends working together can accomplish much more than
any one can working alone.
Eliminating preaching from your writing remains important
in books for older readers, who will close a book the
instant they suspect the author is lecturing to them. So
step back and allow the reader to make life's discoveries
along with your main character. Only then will your
readers willingly listen to what you have to say.
Copyright Children's Book Insider, LLC
Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book
Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For
more information about writing children's books,
including free articles, market tips, insider
secrets and much more, visit Children's Book
Insider's home on the web at http://write4kids.com