How to write for children – media you use

How to write for children - media you use

Toddlers love the large and brightly coloured illustrations.

Please welcome once again Val Rainey, a published author of children’s books and other writing, from Alberta, Canada. After her first delightful article about the magic of books back in December 2014,  she is now sharing her tips with us on how to write for children – something we would all love to do, but actually is very hard to do well.

Over now to Val, who starts us off by describing the different types of children’s books you can write for … 

Board books

I’m sure that most of you played with them as kids. You will notice that I said, “played with”, and likely chewed on, not read.

These books come in a wide range of sizes but no smaller than 5”x5” after all, little hands need to be able to hold the book. The books aren’t really made out of wood. They’re made from several layers of pressed board.

Traditionally there are only one or two words per page and feature bright and shiny illustrations of dogs, cats, chickens, pigs and other fun stuff for little ones. No point in adding a lot of words since we were far too little to read them anyway.

The maximum number of pages is generally 12 including covers, which are also made of board, just like the pages.

Most board books that you will find in stores are of classics as they were expensive for traditional publishing houses to produce.

Fast-forward to the 21-century. You and your kids of any age can create board books simply by adding drawings or photographs.

I recently discovered enough sites on Pinterest to keep anyone busy. It would take a lot of writing to tell you about them all so go and check them out for yourself.

Picture books

This is where we find the most variety. The page and word count both go way up depending on the child’s reading skill.

Toddlers love the large and brightly coloured illustrations. Text is kept to one or two lines per page.

The pre-K / pre-school set still relies on wonderful pictures but the story can now be a little more complex even with simple words such as run, jump and play.

Mom and Dad can always explain unfamiliar words during bedtime story reading time.

Writing for grade two and three kids (UK Years 1 and 2) is where the fun really starts. The kids are learning new words at an amazing rate and are even recognizing them on paper.

Page count is now up to 48 as count has just shot up to a general maximum of 1,500.

These books won’t necessarily have an illustration on every page.

Why so bright and shiny?

We know that kids love bright, shiny colours and now we know why! Research shows that wee folk can’t distinguish dull shades like brown and beige or cream. Their eyes are not fully developed until around eight years of age.

Much of nature displays herself in bright colours to grab your attention either for attracting or warning that they are not to be messed with.

Even we older folks are prewired to be attracted to bright colours in nature. Most fruits, vegetables and grains are brighter when they are ripe and at their best nutritional value.

Early chapter

Early chapter books are similar to picture books but still have a simple but not so obvious a plot. Pictures still rule and must be bright if they are in colour.

Length ranges from 4,000 to 12,000 words and chapters are generally 400 to 1,000 words.

Vocabulary is still pretty straightforward but you can use words that are not on a grade-level reading list.

Young 7 to 9 year old readers will be able to sound out unfamiliar words.

Humour rules especially in adventures, mysteries and squabbles between friends and family members. Favourite topics can also include clever kids outwitting a dragon or not overly bright villains.

Fantasy needs to be on a very simple level. Talking dogs and cats are fun to imagine but not alien societies and classic mythical creatures. We want our intrepid reader to have fun…not nightmares.

Protagonists are usually good with a slight streak of mischief. They are allowed to make mistakes such as stealing food but the reason must be reasonable and totally clear and straightforward.

Antagonists must also be simply naughty or a nuisance rather than evil.

Activity books

Kids love activity books right from the age of chewing on them to working through puzzles and games.

Toddler and pre-k (pre-school) versions teach kids fine motor skills as they tie laces thought large grommets and learn how buttons and snaps work.

Familiar favourites for older kids are connecting the dots, cross word puzzles, word searches and simple match up the two items that go together.

More next time!


The joy of books this Christmas

Val Rainey

Val Rainey is a successful and published Canadian author of children’s books, poetry, blogs, and a writer for many organizations. Her home base is Lethbridge, Alberta.

As well as being a writer, author, and workshop leader, she performs as half of Rainey Day Music in southern Alberta with her husband Brian. Information on Val Rainey’s books can be found at Rainey Day Writing and ResearchVal is a member of both CANSCAIP and Writers Guild of Alberta.

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