Writing Children’s Books – Advice from Jennifer Kuhns

In yesterday’s interview with Jennifer Kuhns, Author, she provided this wonderful advice for aspiring writers.  It was so good, we just had to pull it out and give it a separate blog post.  Thanks Jennifer!

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Here is an article I wrote for my publisher’s web page.

Writing Children’s Books….by Jennifer Kuhns

Piece of cake, Right?  Should be easy.  Pick one of the lessons or morals about life children need to learn, and put that into some kind of story, probably one you’ve heard before, and go for it.  Or maybe you want to write a children’s book because you think it is easier than writing a “real” book and it would give you practice.  If this is how you plan on approaching writing books for children, you may not be successful.

First and foremost, you need to realize that a children’s book is a “real” book.  It is just geared to a different audience from that of  an “adult” book and requires the same amount of work, dedication, and I have found, most of all, passion.  This is a place to make a difference, not to practice.

Second, what lesson or moral are you planning on regurgitating?  What do I mean by…regurgitate?  Well, how many times and how many ways can the story of “good vs. evil” be told.  Or how many Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty …and so forth stories need to be told in which a woman needs to be rescued by a man?  (Again, is this a moral or message we need to send our little girls?)  I for one am in love with the red-headed Merida of Brave, who is a princess who “competes for her own hand”.  Yes, she is a hot-headed teen who thinks she hates mother. But, she is also strong and smart enough to learn the importance of love and family values.  My point, I guess, although the classic fairy tales are magnificent, is that they may not be time relevant to today’s world.

What is relevant?  For me, stories like The Snowy Day, The Giving Tree, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, will always be great stories about discovery…no preaching and no bigger than life message.  To me discovery, be it self discovery, social discovery, moral discovery, environmental discovery, cognitive discovery, or any other type of discovery is always relevant in any world.  I believe children learn best when they hit and understand an “Ah Ha” moment on their own.

My particular interest in writing children’s books came from my own need as a child to read about characters or stories about characters with disabilities. There were next to none (30 years ago), and the ones that my parents could fine were black and white photo picture books about how “Paul” brushed his teeth, put on his socks, and combed his hair with prosthetic arms.  Not much of a story line for a two or three year old.  So, I have always had a “bee in my bonnet” in regards to the attitudes toward and the treatment of people with disabilities.  Upon completion of an extensive research project, I came to understand that a negative attitude is not the normal state of being, but a learned behavior due to fear, ignorance and a skewed point of view.  My goal in writing my first children’s book was to change, beginning with children, the outlook and opinion of society towards people with disabilities, since in reality, every human being has some sort of disability or challenge to overcome.

The  perspective of this story is told from the point of view of a disabled girl in a wheelchair, who will help her new classmates understand, in their language, on their turf, with their coping capabilities, what a disability is and why she should be judged no different than they judge each other.   Along with the story, as added features and teaching tools for teachers, I included a children’s play and color cutouts.  It is with these alternative formats and props, I suggest, that children will be able to fully explore and express their thoughts, fears, misconceptions, and concerns surrounding the unfamiliar world of disability

 

Step 1:  Get out of  your own head.  If you write for children, be a child, write from a child’s point of view.  (Age of child being determined by your audience)

Step 2:  Have passion for what it is you are writing about.  Write from your heart and your soul.  If you write about the most perfect rock you have ever found, make it so in the mind’s of your reader.

Step 3:  Write about things you have knowledge about.  If you want to write about fish, you better know something about fish.

Step 4:  If you think you know about fish, but aren’t sure, research, research, research…and then research some more. read, talk to experts,  whatever it takes.

Step 5:  Gather and develop your characters-names, hair and eye color, body type, attitudes, quirks, habits, favorite foods or games, or past times.  Anything that anyone would want to know about you, you should know about your characters.

Step 6:  Come up with a vehicle, or a way in which to carry your story, your message, your moral your…

 

 

Step 7:  The dreaded outline…where do you start,  where are you going, and where will you end up… in other words, state the problem, create your rise, your climax, and then resolution…Of course this is never set in stone and any one of the above points can be altered at any time (and probably will be).  I for one hate outlines so I came up with my own version of a web or map of my story’s journey.

haileys dream

This is the first web or map I came up with for my last book, a read aloud book for the young listener.  I find that it loosely resembles The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid, combined, with a very different and  self-realization and realistic twist.

Step 8:  Now write.  Let it flow where it wants to go.  If you don’t like where it is going, you can change it.

Cross it out. Write it again.  It isn’t going to be perfect the first time. …Do remember that there should only be one POV (point of view) provided.  Tenses should match(We are going to the store/we is going to store).

Step 9:  When you think you are done, proof read a bazillion times.

Step 10:  Sample out your manuscript to children, teachers, parents-your target audience.  Take note of their response.  Do they ask questions at the right place?  Do they eeeww and ahhh at the appropriate time?  Do they want to know what happens next?  Can they tell you in their own words what the story is about?  If the answer is yes, you may have yourself a worthwhile children’s book.