One of the units I am studying at present is called Writing for children. Our lecturer is award winning author Rosanne Hawke. In our early lectures and workshops we looked closely at how to write picture book texts. Writing this kind of book is a passion for me; I love reading them and sharing them with children – and adults.
One of the things that Rosanne impressed upon us from the very beginning was the importance of reading picture books – as many as we can get our hands on. I’ve always read plenty of picture books, first when I was a teacher librarian, and then as a classroom teacher.
When I retired from teaching four years ago I drifted away from reading picture books as regularly as I used to do. Rosanne has given me the impetus and reason for getting back into this exciting and enjoyable area of books. So once again I’ve reactivated the use of my library card and I am borrowing ten or fifteen a week to read. And I’m thoroughly enjoying the activity.
There is another incentive: we need to keep a reading log of what we are reading, as well as write some short reviews of the books we read. This is a required, assessable component of the course. It is a very enjoyable part of the course I might add.
Last week in my writing for children course the lecturer handed out a card to each student in the workshop. We were not to show anyone the word on the card. She then asked us to write for about five minutes illustrating the word in some way.
Here is a list of some of the words:
fear, anxiety, enthusiasm, happiness, courage, joy, anger, excitement, despair, sadness
This is what I wrote:
James could hardly wait for Saturday. He was jumping out of his skin. “When will it be Saturday?” he asked for about the tenth time. “Tomorrow,” said his mother patiently.
James raced to his room. He checked his money box again. He counted the coins over and over. He was ready for the Agricultural Show.
He couldn’t wait to go on the rides. He wanted to see the animals; the cows, the horses, the dogs and the cats – even the ducks, especially the ducks. He thought of the icecreams and lolly-pops and fairy floss. He could just taste it melting in his mouth. He thought of the colours and the sounds, the smells, the crowds and the clowns. He wanted to see the machines and the cars, the ferris wheel and the tents.
At that point we were asked to stop; and I was just getting warmed up!
Can you work out the word I was given?
Enthusiasm. When I was asked to read it out aloud I also read it with a great deal of enthusiasm.
As a warm up writing exercise, choose one of the emotion words I listed above. Write about it for five to ten minutes. It does not have to be a story, nor does it have to be for children. Just write.
This may be just an exercise but do not throw it away. File it carefully; you never know when it may become useful for a story or an article.
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Writing that is easy to read is certainly hard to write.
Many misinformed people think they will start their writing career by writing picture book texts for children “because they are so simple they must be easy.” This assumption is totally wrong.
Have you ever tried to write a very simple text for four and five year olds with the following criteria?
- Have a limited vocabulary
- Write within a strict word count
- Tell an interesting story
- Be relevant to the needs and interests of children
- Be age relevant
- Be sparkling text
- Be socially inclusive, non-sexist, non-racist and non-everything
- Be innovative.
If you have, and been successful, then you don’t need to be reading this post.
In the early 1990s I wrote a series of texts for a publisher. These were for three to five year olds, and I know how difficult, challenging, exhausting and demanding it can be. Throw a publisher’s deadline into the mix and you will appreciate how hard it really can be.
With much practice in the art of writing you can make your writing appear easy.
It may appear easy, but the process is very hard.
Over 35 years of working with children – I was an elementary school teacher until I retired three years ago – I developed a love of children’s books. I’ve also developed a desire to write books for children.
I’ve written several picture book texts as well as several novels for older children; all remained unpublished (but my day will come). I’ve had six books published; two were teachers’ curriculum guides and the others were children’s workbooks linked to the curriculum. I’ve also written many children’s poems, mostly unpublished too.
Many would-be authors think they will start by writing children’s books “because they are easier to write.” WRONG. Writing for children is a very demanding and difficult genre. As with many artistic endeavours, the easier it looks, the harder it is to do well.
Eugie Foster is a published author who has written a short guide called Writing for Young Readers on the Writing World website. She outlines the things to remember and things to avoid when writing for children.