Avoiding Children’s Book Clichés
by Joel Pierson, AuthorHouse Editorial Service Coordinator
You want to write a children’s book—that’s great. In this age of electronic media, it’s more important than ever that children have a variety of high-quality books to read. But the market has lots of competition. How do you know that your children’s book will stand out, be original, and be good for children? The suggestions below will help put you on a path toward writing the best children’s story you can.
The most important thing to remember is that children are smart and more sophisticated than you might think. Exposure to the mass media is teaching them about life sooner and more thoroughly than children in generations past. Start with a healthy dose of respect for your target audience. This is true of all audiences, but especially important for young readers.
Decide on a target age group. Do you want to write a book for adults to read aloud to children or one that older children can read themselves? Most kids start reading on their own at age five, but some readers start as young as age three. Once you’ve chosen an age group, try to meet and interact with children in that age group. Talk with them and find out their speaking and listening skills. Find out what they like to read (or have read to them). Always do so with their parent or guardian’s permission, of course.
Now it’s time to decide if you’re going to write a fiction or nonfiction book. If you choose nonfiction, be certain your facts are accurate! Children believe what they read in books, and it’s your job to be sure you’re putting truthful, unbiased information in their hands. Also be sure not to plagiarize your material. Remember, just because something appears on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s free to use. Understand copyrights and permissions before you start to write.
If you choose to write a fiction book, you open the door to realms of creativity and imagination. Start with an outline. Choose your characters. Will they be humans? Animals? Talking animals? Space creatures? The possibilities are vast! Use that vastness to explore many avenues of creativity.
Read as many children’s books as you can. The public library has thousands. In reading them, get an understanding for what’s already out there. Get a sense of their style—not to copy it but to know what works and what doesn’t. It will also give you a sense of which topics have already been covered again and again and again.
Structure is very important to young readers. Make sure your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Even a short book of 1,000 words or fewer should have this structure. Make your book a good length for your target age group. The youngest audiences need a book that can be read aloud, start to finish, in ten minutes or less. Slightly older readers can handle books of up to 5,000 words or so. Juvenile readers will enjoy chapter books of 10,000 or even 15,000 words. (And don’t forget, books about a certain young wizard tipped the scales at 75,000 words or more without scaring off their fans!)
Illustrations are very helpful for early-reader and read-to-me books. Make sure your artwork and your words mesh together to enhance each other. AuthorHouse has a wide variety of illustration services available to bring your children’s book to life.
Work hard to be original. If your story has a character who gets lost and then finds his way home, make it uniquely your own. Find a way to personalize it and make it different from the hundreds of published stories about that same idea. And if your book features animals with names, resist the urge to have the animal’s name start with the same first letter as his species: Arnie Aardvark and Bertie Badger and so on. It’s become a cliché in kids’ books, and remember—children are sophisticated. They like variety.
Creating children’s literature is like giving a gift to the future. Make it a gift that a child will want to open again and again. With the help of AuthorHouse’s editorial and illustration services, you can create a work of art in words and pictures.
*Joel Pierson is editorial services coordinator at Author Solutions. He is also the author of the AuthorHouse novel French Quarter, the stage play Mourning Lori, and the upcoming novels Don’t Kill the Messenger and A Woman Says Good Morning.