Writing for Children – a piece of cake?

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It’s easy to write a children’s book isn’t it? From the huge numbers of new books now appearing, and the added opportunities provided by Ebooks and  self publishing, it looks as though it could be an ideal career for anyone, a piece of cake?

Certainly the publicity given to some of the major children’s publishing successes of recent years has encouraged enormous numbers of people to have a go. These days the market is wide open –  but what makes the difference between this year’s popular hit and a classic that is passed down from one generation to another? 

First, Joan Aiken suggests, you have to be absolutely dedicated to your craft:

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So you need to draw on your own experience – which were the books that you loved as a child, the ones that you have read and re-read, and would love to read aloud to children of your own? These days there are degree courses in the study of Children’s Literature; in the USA ‘Kid LIt Cons’ and book bloggers abound, the proliferation of the industry has been so immense in the last century that it is hard to know where to begin, but your FIRST and most important step is to READyes all those books you loved as a child, but also recommendations from book sites, from children of families you know, or from the favourites of your own children. 

Look at the classics that have endured and see what they share.  There are strong roots leading right back to the beginning of the industry, and most of the major writers of the last two centuries happily acknowledge their debt to their predecessors. 

Mark Twain claims to have got the idea for The Prince and The Pauper from  “that pleasant and picturesque little history-book, Charlotte M. Yonge’s  The Little Duke,”  and he goes on to say of one his successors: “I doubt if Mrs. (Frances Hodgson) Burnett knows whence came to her the suggestion to write “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” but I know; it came to her from reading The Prince and the Pauper. In all my life I have never originated an idea, and neither has she, nor anybody else.” 

Good writing comes from wide reading, and not being afraid of the influence of great writers; the best writers happily acknowledge their sources. If those six hundred books have already been written, you should certainly check out the competition!

Wtowrite stories

Joan Aiken’s The Way to Write for Children quoted above, is stuffed chock full of wonderful snippets, her own thoughts on writing and excerpts from all her enormously wide ranging reading. 

Home-schooled until the age of twelve she learned an enormous amount about her craft from reading everything she could get her hands on, and then she was encouraged by her mother to imitate those writers, to try for example re-writing the Bible in the style of Shakespeare, or to work out how, with the minimum number of words, she could create a truly terrifying ghost story in the style of Edgar Alan Poe…  

If you understand why you love what you read, then you can learn to love what you write – the key to good writing is first of all to be a dedicated reader.

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Read more excerpts from Joan Aiken’s The Way to Write for Children

And here are the top ten quotes in an illustrated tribute from Tygertale

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3 thoughts on “Writing for Children – a piece of cake?

  1. Lots of words of wisdom here, Lizza, loved it.

    Always felt that Struwwelpeter‘s appropriation of ‘merry’ and ‘funny’ lacked any credibility — especially the story of Little Suck-a-Thumb. Luckily as a child I never made an associative leap from thumb-sucking to nail-biting, saving myself further trauma and nightmares!

    • Irony intended! Joan wrote some funny (and rather bitter!) parodies of children’s books written either to a formula or with deliberate moral intent eg. ‘brown furry male talking vegetarian animal’ who learns to get on with his fellow creatures by attending a tea party…almost sorry she didn’t write some of them!

      • I’ve just reviewed ‘The Winter Sleepwalker’ after a recent second read and realised this exact same thing — Joan often eschews the simplistic ending which assumes the wicked get punished, the good prosper and all the loose ends get tied up. And definitely no pious morals! A lovely collection.

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