View Full Version : What are the elements that make a children's book great?

The Mad Geek
04-28-2008, 08:48 AM
I really would like to write a children's book because I imagine certain characters of mine would be appealing to a younger audience. What elements should I really capture that would make a great children's book, and how can I really ace it? Thank you!

04-28-2008, 10:31 AM
Think like a kid.

One of the biggest problems with mediocre Children's Fiction is that the children are not thinking, acting and talking like children. And I'm not talking about vocabulary, or sentence structure, or anything like that. I'm talking about something more basic. How they act, how they feel, how they talk.

Observe children, get into their minds. Walk around the house on your knees, looking at the adults towering above you, if you have to.

The Mad Geek
04-28-2008, 10:41 AM
Thanks! I'll keep that in mind.

04-28-2008, 12:58 PM
Read good children's fiction. Oh, dear, this seems to be becoming my standard answer...:Lecture: READ the stuff you want to write!!!! But I honestly think it's absolutely basic.

04-28-2008, 02:13 PM
I agree with Broadswordbabe... read what you want to write. Be VERY familiar with the market you want to reach. You need characters that are going to captivate the children and a story that will take them away.

04-28-2008, 04:21 PM
IMO, writing for children is more difficult than writing for any other audience. You either get it right or you don't. There's nothing in between. I think if we could easily break down what works in children's books into a few simple points, we'd all be best-selling children's authors. I believe successful children's books are a magical combination of mystical elements that occasionally defy explanation. They just work.

That said, read, read, read all the books for kids that you can. A good tip, also, is to write characters against type. Kids love it when parents act like kids or kids act like adults (Mathilda, for example, on both counts) or dogs act like cats. They think it's funny. They think farting is also funny.

04-28-2008, 04:40 PM
They think farting is also funny.

Yep, my son thinks it's hilarious.

This is why I can't write children's books...I just don't understand their humor. The stuff he finds funny completely baffles me. :D

04-28-2008, 05:07 PM
Are you talking about picture books? If so, I would add one thing. Of course you should read a lot of them to get a feel what's out there. But more importantly, you should read them out loud.

I've got a three and six year old and the best children's books are the ones that are fun to read. The ones that have a playfulness and rhythm in the language. (Note this does not mean they are written in rhyming verse.)

True, kids have a different sense of humor. But parents buy the picture books. So you're really writing for both of them.

Azure Skye
04-28-2008, 05:31 PM
The best advice is to read. Ask yourself: what age group? what genre? And dive in head first to those books. Devour them.

04-28-2008, 05:50 PM
rhymes and repitition for the under 7 set

04-28-2008, 06:47 PM
I'm not sure which age you're referring to. I think part of it is not dumbing things down. A great children's book will also be a great book to adults as well ( though not the reverse, lol). I think children tend to be more imaginative, openminded, and open to possibility. They don't tend to be cynical, and are prepared to be awed and astounded. They enter more deeply into things, and they tend to live in the present more than adults do. I still remember The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. I still dream images of visuals that haunted my imagination from that series, particularly The Red Stallion.Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and C.S Lewis's the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe series effected me the same way and began a lifelong love of books. I've never purposely killed a spider since reading Charlote's Web. One thing all these books did was place the main characters in situations where they had to face and surmount danger and deal with adversity, and grapple with emotional situations and moral dilemmas and grow. What the main characters did MATTERED They also plunged you into wonderful worlds that fired and fed the imagination. I can still remember the scene when Tom Sawyer and Becky were lost in a cave. It was as frightening to me then, and as alien and fantastic as any horror or fantasy novel I've read since. I sometimes dream that too. I don't know if they still write most childrens books this way, but I think the ones I've mentioned all became beloved classics for just those reasons, and honestly, I would happily read any of them again.