Children's Books/Canadian Copywriter
What Is A Good Children's Book? Some Ideas On Story Plots
Testing Your Ideas
How To Get Started Writing A Children's Book
The Top Ten Children's Books
Where Do You Get Your Materials?
Interesting Children's Books for 2004
Write For Children's Magazines
The 10 Best Films for Children
Children's Magazines That Buy Free Lance
The Totally Buggy Collection

Every mother or father who has ever read a bedtime story to their child usually assumes that writing a children's book is easy. Naturally, they believe their child's interests reflect the interests of most children and equally as naturally, they believe that writing a children's book is simply a matter of translating their child's fantasies into print using two-syllable words and easy-to-understand concepts --They'll say "After all it's only for children!

The truth is that writing any kind of book -- whether it's believe, a children's book is not a watered down adult's book. In fact, many of the great children's books writers were excellent writers before they began writing for children. Many had proven themselves quite capable of spinning a tale that fascinates everybody -- no matter what their age.

So, if you are interested in writing a children's book, do yourself a favor: before sitting down and setting pen to paper, go to the library and load up on the children's classics. Set aside a summer. Sit down and read A.A, Milne, Lewis Carrol, J.R.R. Tolken, Louisa May Alcott, Daniel Defoe, Rudyard Kipling, Jean Little, C.S. Lewis and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Once you're finished these books, look into the contemporary "classics". Seek out children's writers such as Richard and Florence Atwater, Judy Blume, Beverley Cleary, Nancy Garden, Madeleine L'Engle, Bette Lord, Lois Lowry, Anne M. Martin, Katherine Paterson, Judith Viorst, Cynthia Voigt, Rosemary Wells and Charlotte Zolotow.

In these books, you will see how the writer weaves a web of fantasy that create "islands of the mind", taking children to other places. And that just doesn't come from talent. It comes from an in-depth study of the behavior of all young children. Dr. Seuss struck a chord when he created the Grinch. More recently, J.K.Rowling tapped a "gold mine" with her stories of wizards and magic spells. But it's not easy. These people have spent a lifetime learning how to write -- and finally struck gold*.

So, if you, too, want to match their success, the secret is: practice, practice, practice! -- and consider the following.


When you sit down to your word processor, you must always consider the audience you are writing for. In this case, it's "children", but consider the other very important "hidden" audience. Whenever children are concerned, it's crucial that you know what you are doing -- not just because you are dealing with innocents, but because they have parents. Sure, it's important to please the children, but your material must also be acceptable to adults. If it's not acceptable to adults (i.e. their parents), what chance does your book have of reaching its intended audience? So write your book with the understanding that an adult will be reading it to a child. In fact, to be absolutely sure, imagine yourself reading your book to a group of children and their parents. If that doesn't make you break out into sheets of perspiration, you've leaped a major hurdle.

Of course, within this context, you may take some license. You can go as far you want until the "one-eyebrow" factor kicks in. That's when a parent isn't quite sure if the book has crossed the boundaries of good taste, forcing one eyebrow to go up. The eyebrow will go down, however, if the children seem to enjoy the story (and no-one seems to be getting hurt). Parents will simply shrug their shoulders and chalk it up to the "mysteries of childhood"."Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is a prime example of this.

The next big hurtle (and one that's equally as difficult) is to please the children!

Children today are very sophisticated, far more sophisticated than the children of any other era. As a result, they're easily bored. Before they will have a chance to read your book, they've already watched hour upon hour of cartoons and children's shows on television. They can figure out concepts that you and I are still struggling to understand. Many are often required to be responsible for things that we, as children, never would have dreamed of so many years ago.

With many of today's parents fully involved in their careers (or single mom's working to make ends meet), today's children have become a generation of "latch-key-kids" -- responsible for themselves and often their siblings.

So, remember that today's child is a dramatically improved and updated version of yesterday's model. But even with all these extra complications in our lives, a child will always be a child -- still enchanted by the same ideals that all children are. Children still love to have fun, they love adventure and mystery. They cherish loyalty and they all want to be brave, competent and kind. They want to overcome problems and rise to greater heights. In short, they want to be a hero!

So, write your book with these parameters in mind and you might write a winning children's book. But never forget the sophistication of your reader. One of the dangers of writing children's books, particularly with beginning writers, is the tendency to "talk down" to their readers. Their text is permeated with an aura of condescension like a nauseating medicine. This is a mistake that will turn a young reader off. Another common mistake is to write "too cute and cuddly". In years gone by, Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit were top selling children's books, but these books are fading in popularity. The mass media has taught children to reject being "babyish" and to grow up as fast as they can.


As is true with any kind of memorable fiction, a children's book should contain conflict -- a problem. The story should detail how a child grows or changes to overcome or resolve the problem. Remember too that a children's book is read over and over again, so you must make your story compelling. An adult has to want to read it to a child -- and a child must someday yearn to read the book on their own!



If you are a parent, you have an advantage over the rest of us. Watching your own children and remembering your childhood are two of your most important sources of information. You must be able to understand what your child is going through as they attempt to understand this sometimes strange, but mostly wonderful and truly fascinating world. There are many excellent "fantasy" books for children, but the truly successful ones focus on day to day life -- and real life experiences that can help a child understand who they are and the power they possess. A third source of information is writing associations and groups. There are many different groups who can help. First and foremost is The Society Of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This group actually helps you find answers. Every Spring and Fall, the Society issues a bulletin with updates on industry issues, plus a list of books which are in the works and upcoming. You might also want to pick up a copy of "Children's Books in Print" to see what's already out there. Consider too the Children's Book Council, 568 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. The council publishes "Members Publishing Programs which give you a good idea of who the major players are in the business. If you are looking for an easy reference, pick up a copy of the Horn Book at the library. This, too, is chock full of information for children's book writers. Check Writing and the World Wide Web of this website.

*Such success is rare. If you want to write books for children, don't expect to make a lot of money. Of all the books in today's market, children's books are usually priced lower than adult books and therefore pay the least royalties. On the plus side, however, if your book strikes an international nerve, (like Ms. Rowling and her band of wizards), it'll be handed down from generation to generation and the royalties will pile up. You might have noticed that many good children's books stay in print longer than adult books. (Walt Disney is a good example of this concept. Can you imagine how much money Mickey has earned for his master? Disney keeps re-issuing Bambi over and over again. Why? Because there's always a new generation of kids who have never been exposed to a Disney cartoon and the parents enjoy being reminded of their childhood)


As we said earlier, writing a good children's book takes "talent". In the year 1999, only 400 authors in Canada were deemed talented enough to have their book published. In the United States, the number "swelled" to 7,000 and in the United Kingdom there are only about 4,000 published authors. Your aim, of course, is to join those vaulted ranks. Until that time, however, you might want to hone your skills by writing a few short stories, then submit your prose to magazines. Magazines are always hungry for articles that attempt to make sense out of today's social issues. Other than getting your work published, another benefit of writing for magazines is that you will gain a better understanding of your target audience. Magazines know their audiences well and will help you understand who you are writing for.
By writing magazine articles, you will sharpen the "readability" of your writing. Since children have different interests and reading levels, there are many different magazines and when you do eventually write your book, you will have a firm grasp on what words to use*.

Here are a few kid's magazines that may be interested in your work:

Cicada(www.cicadamag.com) is a bi-monthly magazine for teenagers and young adults ages 14 and up that publishes original short stories, poems and first person essays. The magazine pays 25 cents/word for articles up to 5,000 words, $3/line for poetry up to 25 lines. Buys first rights.

Cricket Magazine(www.cricketmag.com) is a monthly general interest magazine for children ages nine to fourteen. It's part of the Cricket Magazine group, which also includes Babybug, Ladybug, Cicada, Spider, Click and Muse. They say they're looking for Stories about South America, as well as historical fiction. They pay 25 cents per word for stories or articles of 200 to 2,000 words (2 to 8 pages), $3 line for poetry up to 50 lines. Buys first rights. Submit your story in a complete manuscript with SASE by mail. Don't query first. The magazine responds in 12 weeks. The guidelines are available on their web site. P.O. Box 300, Peru, Il. 61354.

GL (Girl's Life) (girlslife.com) A bi-monthly magazine for girls ages ten to fifteen. Articles on relationships are welcomed, fashion, beauty, etcetera.

Highlights for Children. (highlights.com) with a circulation of more than three million in the age 2 to 12 category. Stories are not to exceed 400 words. Pays $100 and up. Send your complete manuscript by mail. Doesn't prefer electronic submissions. Previously published material isn't considered. Guidelines are available on their web site. Editorial Department: 803 Church Street, Honesdale PA, 18431

U.S. Kids(www.uskidsmag.org)and Jack and Jill(www.jackandjillmag.org)Although these publication are using mostly in-house material, they welcome the odd article from freelancers. Topics: excercise, sports, nutrition, drug education. Humorous poems and short fillers are welcomed. Pays 17 cents per word for columns and departments of 300 to 400 words. $15 to $50 for poems, preferably humorous. Buys all rights. Submit a query letter first. Children's Better Health Institute, P.O. Box 567, Indianapolis, IN 46206-0567.

Every child is seeking Self Importance. For example, if you wrote a story about some children who suddenly find themselves without adult supervision -- and realize that they must live by their wits in order to succeed (or perhaps even survive), you might be on the right track. The fear of being separated from a loved one, someone who protects them, is very strong in a child. For example, when Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz gazed into the crystal ball after the Wicked Witch of the West threatened her life, she saw her "Aunt 'Em". But her "Aunt 'Em'couldn't see her. Dorothy was frightened by this (as were her readers) and she knew she had to live by her wits if she was to keep her life. Being lost and being brave in the face of trying circumstances is a common thread in dozens of books from Hansel and Gretal to Lord of The Flies.

Being Better. Every child strives to be better, smarter, more competent, etc. A recurring theme in children's books is, for example, the pigeon who wants to be a seagull or the "Scarecrow" in the Wizard of Oz who wants a heart. Often the morale of the story is that "the magic is inside you" --- and "you are what you are and you are beautiful". It's not a new idea, but the emotions are still very compelling (no matter what your age) and still worth investigating.

Mysteries. Again, the concept of "self-importance" crops up. The Hardy Boys were popular among young children because they were about two young boys who helped their father solve mysteries. In an adult world, they proved themselves to be almost as competent as their father (who was also a world-renowned sleuth). A Canadian writer by the name of Leslie MacFarlane was a ghost-writer for Franklin W. Dixon. He said: "The success of the Hardy Boys was because the stories had flavor. They were written for a literate generation, giving kids the opportunity to figure out the mysteries for themselves."

For teenage readers, Betty Cavanna's mysteries were always set in a foreign background. In her book Mystery on Safari, a young girl travels to Kenya and gets involved in the pursuit and capture of a poaching combine. Ms. Cavanna drops hints along the way of the final outcome of the story. If a mystery is to be believable, usually the adults have to enter the plot to help the children -- but, for the most part, the children prove themselves to be "all grown up" and capable of helping themselves.




Before you submit your story to a publisher (and get the inevitable rejection), try to get involved with library reading programs for children. Take your story in and read to the kids. You'll get instant feedback on your idea. If the kids start to wander around or play with their feet or get up and look for a cookie, you know it's time to go back to the drawing board. However, if the children are wide-eyed and ask "What Happens Next?", you know you're on to something. Children have to believe in the characters you create.


If you are having difficulty finding the right words to use for a children's book, there are many informed sources you can rely on. Teachers and librarians are a good choice. A teacher will know the range of reading capabilities in his or her classroom. A librarian will know who is capable of understanding which kind of words.

Of course, there are other more scientific systems for determining readability. Some of the more popular are: "The Gunning Fog Index", "The Linsead Write," "The Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level Index and "The Smog Readability Formula."
If you prefer doing your own research, check the spine on a children's book. Look for the Cinderalla dancing with her prince letters RL and a number. For example, the code "RL 2.4" indicates that a second grade student in the fourth month of school is capable of reading the book. Analyze the book. you will find your answers -- but remember that although you will be using short, easy-to-understand words, children resist being "childish". If you are writing for pre-school kids, imagine yourself writing for children in grade four. If you are writing for teens, write as though you are writing to adults. As we said earlier, children are more mature than ever -- they enjoy the challenge of encountering new words and learning their definitions.

Remember that all of this is only intended to give you a basic understanding of who is capable of reading the words you produce on a word processor. There are many 12 year olds who are capable of reading "Catcher In The Rye" while there are an equal number of forty year olds who struggle with "Alice In Wonderland". Life's like that.






Fiction
True Confessions of A Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibotson
Parvana's Journey by Deborah Ellis
The Secret Life of Owen Skye by Alan Cumyn
Jinx by Margaret Wild

Non Fiction
The Man Who Ran Faster Than Everyone: The Story Of Tom Longboat by Jack Batten
Hannah's Suitcase by Karen Levine
The Big Book of Canada by Christopher More, illustrated by Bill Slavin
Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker
Breaking Free by May Ebbit Cutler, illustrations by William Kurelek


Picture Books
The Rumor. A Jataka Tale from India by Jan Thornhill
The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon by Janie Jaehyun Park
Dragon Fly Kites, by Tomson Highway, illustrated by Brian Deines
10 (Ten) by Vladimir Radunsky
This is the House That Jack Built by Simms Taback.



Some Interesting Children's Books for 2004

The Alphabet With Wild Animals, written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Kids Can, 24 pages, $6.95, ages 2 to 5 The Alphabet With Wild Animals is one of the Learning with Animals series, which includes Opposites with Polar Animals, Color with Tropical Animals and Numbers with Farm Animals. Each board book is geared for small hands and hungry little minds primed to absorb the concepts contained within.

Stone Soup, by Marcia Brown, Simon and Schuster, 40 pages, $6.99, ages 4 to 8.
The organizing principle of the Stories to Go! series from Aladdin paperbacks, to which Stone Soup belongs is that books are as necessary as diapers, a blankie and a favorite stuffed animal when children are on the road -- or in the air, or simply not at home. Based on an old French folk tale, and first published in 1947, Stone Soup is the droll story of three soldiers who come to a village and, when they are told that there is nothing to eat, show the villagers how to make soup from stones. In so doing, they inveigle the villagers to part willingly with their hoarded food.

Sawdust Carpets, by Amelia Lau Carling, Groundwood, 32 pages. $16.95, ages 4 to 7.
The setting for this picture book is Guatemala, the birthplace of the author. As Carling explains in her prologue, her family was Chinese and they kept to their customs. "But Holy Week, the week preceding Easter was like no other week, even for a Chinese family as traditional as ours." It was the custom in Guatemala, when the author was growing up, for processions of people to re-enact the passion of Christ, winding through the ancient city of Antigua.





In the summer of 2005, the British Film Institute published a list of the ten recommended films for children (perhaps wishing to deflect criticism of the thousands of films that are "unwatchable" by children). The ten films are:

The Wizard Of Oz. directed by Victor Fleming, 1939. U.S. This is a particularly effective film because it addresses every fear a child has ever experienced -- then quashes them all with a happy ending.

Les Quatres Cents Coups directed by Francois Truffaut, 1959, France. Translated, the film's title is The Four Hundred Blows. It focuses on a 12 year old by the name of Antoine Doinel and the domestic strife that leads him to a detention centre before escaping for a new life.

The Night Of The Hunter directed by Charles Laughton, 1955, U.S. Robert Mitchum portrayed a menacing preacher, an ex-convict who befriends the young children of a former cellmate in order to find his hidden fortune.

Where Is The Friend's House? directed by Abbas kiarostami, 1987, Iran. A simple story yet rivetting for children, this film centers on a young boy who travels across town to return an exercise book to save his best friend from getting expelled from school.

Show Me Love, directed by Lukas Moodysson, 1998, Sweden. Two young girls are friends, but the plot takes a twist when they develop feelings for each other.

Toy Story directed by John Lasseter; 1995, U.S.
Buzz Lightyear and Woody are a couple of toys that suddenly come alive and lead the other toys on high adventure.

E.T. The ExtraTerrestrial. Directed by Stephen Spielberg, this film casts a 10-year old boy as a "true hero" as he fights the military to defend his alien friend.

The Bicycle Thief directed by Victoria De Sica, 1948, Italy. Antonio Ricci is a humble, impoverished lad who finally finds a job putting up posters only to have his bicycle stolen.

Spirited Away directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 2001, Japan. This is an "Alice In Wonderland" type of film with a Japanese sheen.


Kes directed by Ken Loach, 1969. Billy Casper is a young boy who escapes the bullying of his older brother by taming a kestrel.



Check out the "Totally Buggy" Children's books written and edited by our Canadian Copywriter staff.




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