Unless you remember what it’s like to be a child, you might have a hard time writing for one.
Here’s what kids want hear about:
· The way you almost died when you found out your skirt was tucked up in your waistband in Mrs. Kramer’s fourth grade class
· How you felt when you went shopping for school clothes in August; the smell of the dressing room; the empty hangers on the floor; the excitement/fear of going into a grade you’ve been saying you’re in all summer
· The heartbreak of watching your best friend pass your seat to sit with someone else on the bus; that rubbery, gasoline smell; forest green seats; kids bouncing up and down (or slumped by the window) and yelling over the gunning of the engine
If your characters aren’t culled from the swirl of emotions you felt every time anything happened when you were a kid, your young readers might not stick with you.
Here’s some stuff they don’t want to read about:
· Waking up in the morning
· What the main character’s bedroom looks like
When you’re writing for kids, write for yourself. The person you outgrew years ago, but who’s still hanging out somewhere inside.
Writing for Kids is Like Therapy
Funny thing, when you really get into writing for kids, it kind of wakes you up. It’s as if that child is snoozing in there, hibernating under a blanket of all of the ‘shoulds’ that we tend to weigh ourselves down with when we get jobs, houses and kids.
You’ll know you’ve nailed that cafeteria scene when something inside you stirs as you type the final word. If you once sat on your bed with your ten-year old best friend whose mother just died and you didn’t know what to say, you’ll know you’ve captured that awful day when your eyes blur as you watch the scene unfold on your screen.
It’s a remembering that reaches inside of you and cleans you out. You begin to see the world through your little girl eyes again—in small glimpses, sure—but it’s there. You laugh when people walk into things. You put quarters in a gum machine to get one of those big, stale gumballs. You might even pet the neighbor’s cat. (But think twice before telling your boss to pull your finger.)
And do make sure you have a real, modern-day kid read your stuff! Someone needs to check it for ‘language.’ You don’t want Beaver Cleaver narrating your story. But go too far on the edgy side, and you might be topping out of your age group. (Unless you’re writing YA, which pretty much has everything in it that adult books do.)
Or unless you're writing for yourself. If that’s the case, do whatever feels good and throw it in a drawer when you’re done!
Blog about Reading, Writing and Kids: Musings, stories and tips about teaching children to read and writing books for children.
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Writer, marketing consultant and author: Teach Your Child to Read™. Online, phonics based reading program.
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