If you like children and are quite childish, something I´ve often been accused of, then writing for children may seem easy and natural.
I began my love affair with words many years ago. Some of my fondest memories are being read to as a child, visiting the library, and discovering the ability to read by myself. I still have worn copies of favourite childhood books, such as The Bobbsey Twins, Little Women, Black Beauty and Anne of Green Gables; and revisit these old friends from time to time. Books and children go together like toast and jam. Recently, one seven-year-old friend said to me, “Who doesn´t like books?” I never show up without books as gifts for my grandchildren. I am known as The Book Grandma.
It´s not surprising that I love writing stories for children.
While writing for children can be fun, it isn´t easy. It requires removing yourself from the adult world and thinking like a twenty-first-century kid (unless you’re writing a historical novel, then a kid from whatever century you are writing about). Fortunately, I like to hang out with kids, listen to the words they use, observe the gestures, the looks, the trends. I also enjoy reading children’s books to see what sparks the interest of today’s young people. Children notice things adults don’t and could care less about things adults think are important. It’s necessary to get into their headspace. And guess what? While I’m writing, I get to be a kid again – and what could be more fun!
Here are a few tips, based on what I’ve learned after writing eight middle-grade books.
- Kids like strong main characters, role models. Characters willing to take risks and sometimes mess up, but coming out on top in the end. Keep in mind the characters you liked as a child.
- Young people often act childish, but they can also be very mature, especially under pressure.
- The hero/heroine can possess extraordinary skills, but they still need to be real so readers can identify with them.
- Dialogue moves the story along, breaks up description and gets the reader to know characters better. Each character needs his/her own voice.
- Show emotion, don’t tell. This is true in all writing but especially when writing for kids. Instead of writing Jane was homesick, how about, Jane spent a lot of time looking at pictures of her family, often bursting into tears.
- Listen to kids talk so you get the lingo right. They are not teenagers so they won’t talk like them, not yet. They often parrot their parents and other adults around them.
- Watch movies and TV shows with kids in them, observe how they act and talk.
- Be aware that kids speak differently in different parts of the country, and the world.
- If you aren’t sure about something, ask a kid. I do this all the time. In fact, I have a street team of young readers from age 7 to 12. They are so helpful. Don’t ask a parent, they are the last to know how their kids talk or act!
- Kids are always giving me ideas. I keep a notebook and write down things they say and do, often incorporating these in my stories. They can be so clever too. Often wise beyond their years.
Writing for children is important because I want children to develop the same love of books I had as a child. A love that doesn’t fade with time. Children’s books create lifelong readers; readers who eventually buy adult books.
So if you have been thinking of writing for children, give it a try. Have fun and let yourself be a kid again!
Thanks, Aurora, for the opportunity to talk about something I’m passionate about. If anyone has questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments.
Darlene Foster is a Canadian author who has written the popular Amanda Travels series, featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places where she encounters mystery and adventure while learning about another culture. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another in various countries. Darlene has won prizes for her short stories and a number of them have been published in anthologies. She has also written a bi-lingual book for English/Spanish readers.
Darlene grew up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, where her love of reading inspired her to travel the world and write stories. Over the years she held wonderful jobs such as an employment counsellor, ESL teacher, recruiter, and retail manager, and wrote whenever she had a few spare minutes. She is now retired and has a home in Spain where she writes full time. When not travelling, meeting interesting people, and collecting ideas for her books, she likes to spend time with her husband and entertaining dog, Dot.
Her books include Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask, Amanda in Spain: The Girl in The Painting, Amanda in England: The Missing Novel, Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone, Amanda on The Danube: The Sounds of Music, Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind, and Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady will be released in the spring of 2021.
Connect with Darlene:
Amazon author page https://www.amazon.com/Darlene-Foster/