Children’s books are fun. That’s such an important rule that it deserves repeating. Children’s books are fun. Children learn best when they are having fun. Fun inspires creativity, curiosity, and adventure, all essential elements of learning. If you adhere strongly to this principle of fun in all of your writing and illustration of children’s books, you are already on the right track.
Children love to associate themselves with the characters in the story. Their imaginations take them on all sorts of adventures playing the role of their favorite character long after reading the book. Keep the child and his/her imagination in mind when writing about the character. Make your story unique and the characters distinctive but be careful not to make them too complex or the child will not be able to associate. Children love stories of triumph. Make sure the hero of the story always wins the race, saves the day or outwits the bad guys.
Nobody is perfect, so a hero with a weakness is perfectly acceptable. Show them how any character can be a hero in spite of their weakness, which may be something as simple as being the shortest one in the group. In their play, you will inspire them to be heroic and this will help them in other aspects of their lives. Don’t forget that children associate with the characters. This also means that the hero must overcome or outwit an evil villain or scary monster without ever coming into direct contact with the characters. That association can be very scary for young children.
Characters will be easier to follow throughout the story if they each have their own voice, their own attitudes and manner of speaking. If all the characters sound and act exactly the same way the child will become bored and may have difficulty discerning between them.
Keep your storyline very explicit and straightforward and don’t stray from the main point. Composite sub-plots and intrigue are wonderful tools when writing mystery novels. Most children will perceive the story as presented and the complexity will be lost on them. Too much complexity or nuance risks losing their attention completely, or confusing them and the result is the book is no longer fun. In the same vein, manage transitions from one scene to the next by writing words that set up the change. If you jump from one place to another without setting it up properly, the child will have difficulty understanding what happened to the storyline.
Did I mention the most important rule? Children’s books are fun. Writers are tempted to make every book a learning experience, and there is nothing wrong with that idea. However, the lesson, or moral of the story must come out of the story itself. Avoid long narratives or speeches that lecture the child and take their attention away from the fun of the story.
Have fun with the learning by challenging their thinking. Children seem to love dinosaur names, so don’t be afraid to call animals by big funny names, like Bumpalog the squirrel or Skyscraper the giraffe. Opposites attract. In children’s books, this means intentionally seeing things the opposite way that the child might expect. A character who wears his hat upside down for no good reason will be a source of amusement.
It’s okay to use magical powers to explain all sorts of things in a children’s book that otherwise would not make sense. Keep in mind that you don’t want to use those magical powers to enable the hero to embark on fantastic adventures that may or may not have been approved by the parent, or other supervising adult. The power of association can be very strong. Likewise, you don’t want the special powers to be the main reason that the hero wins. Anyone can win if he/she works hard enough or outsmarts their opponents.
One final thought, graphics and artwork help to fire up the imagination. Make sure you have enough words to tell a story, regardless of whether the pictures dominate the pages or not. Also, make sure the images match the story, the scenery and the characters or you will risk losing the child’s attention. Their imaginations will wonder off into the image to try to determine where it may be taking them. Did I mention that children’s books are fun? Write on!