When you send that manuscript to a publisher, one of the first questions you’ll need to answer is, What age range? Writing for children has unique challenges and considerations that writers for adult readers don’t have.
Sci-fi-readers, romance readers, history buffs, fiction, nonfiction … they can be 20 or 100 years old and any age before, between or after. The writer can be older or younger than the reader – or dead even – and it won’t make a bit of difference.
Not so for children’s literature. Books for a four year old will be vastly different from books for a twelve year old.
Younger ages mean simpler material which progressively gets more complex with each year until, by the later years of high school, they should be reading at adult levels. You may have life long readers who follow you if you write for four year olds, but that just means that they grew up and now they’re reading your work to their four year olds!
Not only must your work appeal to the child, it needs to also appeal to any adult who’s in charge of selecting reading material for children. Older children at some point will begin selecting their own reading material, but from the simplest picture books read by parents to the text books in classrooms, there will always be a watchful adult scrutinizing. No child will see your work if you can’t get past that adult filter.
But not to worry … if you’re the kind of writer that can appeal to a four year old, you’re not likely to have any problem with the adults. That gift will shine through your work and they will be eager to share it with their children.
Because it truly is a gift. The gifts we possess will incline us in the right direction, and exercising our gifts is partially intuitive and natural, but a lot of that gifting is raw and needs to be developed and sharpened.
We’ve got to be on our toes, because our readers are the toughest readers in the world.
They don’t have enough life experience to understand the little mind games adults can play with each other, so you can’t get away with too much nonsense when writing for them.
They can smell phoniness from miles away.
You won’t get away with talking down to them.
Or preaching to them.
If you love what you do, they will know.
If you’re just writing a kid’s book ‘cause it looks easy, though it’s not really all that interesting to you, they will know that, too.
They haven’t developed filters yet, so whether you’ve done a really good job, or a really crappy job, you'll find out!
Good writing in any genre is good because the writer is exploring subjects that interest and challenge the readers and makes them want to explore more and dive deeper. If the writing is engaging, it will attract readers who feel the same way about the same subjects.
Young children with no life experience don’t even know what subjects exist, much less which of those might be interesting to them.
We picture book makers have the awesome privilege of giving them their first peeks at the world. But we’re just one more adult telling them stuff. So more than just attracting them to read, we need to be inviting them to join us in exploring. The best writing for children happens when writers present the material in such a way that young readers will feel safe and be willing to come along.
Come back next week and we'll discuss how to accomplish that ...