So one day it hits you—that perfect idea, the one you know is your key to becoming a children’s book author. You do a little character developing, you download Scrivener, you’re ready to take that idea and turn it into a children’s book, right?
Wrong. Almost every person believes they have a book inside them, but without taking the time to consider your writing goals, those books never make it to “The End.” Before you sit down at your computer and start typing out that great bestseller you’ve been brewing, I suggest you take some time to sit down and think about these questions.
Why are you writing this book? Do you desire fame, wealth, or critical acclaim? Do you believe in and love your story? Do you simply want to read the book to your child, family, or friends? I’m not going to say that any motivation for finishing a book is better than another (though I’m not holding my breath to become a millionaire author anytime soon), but I do think that without knowing what’s motivating you, you’ll lose steam around page thirty and your book won’t ever be completed.
What time commitment are you giving to this book? Will you write every day? Should you set a daily word count? Are you planning on writing whenever the mood or inspiration strikes? Giving yourself clear and realistic expectations for the amount of time you will dedicate yourself to this project will keep you from being frustrated if it takes you awhile to finish. Knowing ahead of time that you only plan on writing 100 words a day will allow you to realistically be aware that you’ll be working on this book for over a year or years to come.
How much of your story do you know? You don’t need to be the person that writes an in-depth outline before you start writing chapter one, but you should have an idea of what the beginning, middle, and end of your story will be. If you start writing the book with a strong, developed beginning, no clue as to what will happen in the middle, and a vague idea of the ending, you could get lost and give up the whole project.
Would you want to read this book? This is the most important question to ask yourself—and the one a lot of wannabe authors don’t give enough importance to. If you don’t believe your book is important, if you’re not having fun writing or reading it, and if you don’t care about your book as if it was your own child, you won’t have the energy to fight to get it written and eventually published. Don’t bother to start writing something if you don’t start the project with more passion than you’ve ever felt in your life.
Deciding to write a book is deciding to start one of the longest, craziest, emotional, frustrating, and rewarding journeys you’ve ever been on. If you feel confident in answering all of these questions, you’ll be prepared to see your book through to its end.
Are you a first-time writer? What are some of your answers to these questions? Let me know in the comments below!
It’s the day I’ve been looking forward to for awhile now. Yesterday, my third children’s book, Night Buddies Go Sky, was officially released!
In all the excitement leading up to this day, I thought I would share with you all exactly how the Night Buddies series came about. And if I’m being truthful, I have to give credit to my son John. We used to read together every night, but one night when it was late and he wanted the stories to continue I advised him to start making up his own adventures, and that’s how Crosley the red crocodile was born! We came up with Crosley stories all the time until he became a member of our family.
Once John was already grown, I realized that between Crosley and my son John, I had the makings of a book in my hands . . . and that began the long journey to where I am today. I had written short stories in college, and have been a long-time book addict, but deciding to write a children’s book was the biggest writing project I had ever taken on. It became clear to me early on, however, that there were only two, very basic things I needed to make the Crosley book a reality—always use more imagination than I first thought to use, and write the thing every day until it’s done. The combination of these two things has gotten me through three books so far!
In Night Buddies Go Sky High, our two Night Buddies John and Crosley fly over to the Pineapple Cheesecake Factory to top off Crosley’s supply. Once there, they find Big Foot Mae staring at a mysterious new dot in the sky . . . and it turns out Brother Crenwinkle has seen it too! They decide to investigate the thing, so they modify their racing blimp for extreme altitude and take off into the stratosphere. What they find will absolutely warp your mind!
In honor of the book’s release, I’m giving away five free books on Goodreads. All you have to do to enter the drawing is click on the link below and click “Enter to Win!” The giveaway will be open through April 16, so be sure to tell your friends to enter too!
Finally, I just want to say a thank you to all my readers. Your support has been instrumental in continuing to bring Crosley to life book after book, and we both hope you’ll enjoy this new adventure!
When I sat down to write the first book in the Night Buddies series, I didn’t quite know exactly what I was getting into. Writing a book is hard work, and writing for children is an especially difficult task that requires an immense amount of time, dedication, and above all, imagination. The easy part is coming up with a vague idea for what you think will be an exciting story . . . the hard part is turning that idea into a full and complete work of fiction that will keep kids up past their bedtimes just to figure out what happens next. So for any of you out there attempting to write your own children’s book for the first time, these are the best tips I can give you to help make the process as smooth as possible.
Read what’s already out there. Browse the New York Times bestsellers lists, scroll through Goodreads to find out which children’s books have the highest ratings, walk through the aisles of your local bookstore to see which books have the biggest displays, and then READ them. The more you know about children’s literature, the more prepared you will be to write your own book.
Spend a good amount of time imagining before you start writing. I would go as far to say that children’s literature is the genre with the most amount of imagination involved, and all of the most popular stories are the most creative ones as well. The more time you spend imagining the world your book is set in, imagining the characters you’ll be writing about, and imagining all the trouble you can stir up in a couple hundred pages or so, the more fun your book will be to read.
Spend time with children. If you don’t know anything about kids, how are you going to know what they would enjoy reading? You need to spend time with kids to remember what it is like to think like them, play like them, and imagine like them. Then, you take that knowledge and incorporate it into your book, making it something kids can easily relate to!
Take it seriously. Writing a book, especially a book for children, should be fun. But the only way you are going to be able to see the book through from start to finish is by taking your writing seriously. Have a set time each day to write, have a set goal you have to achieve each day before you go to bed, and think about your story in every free moment you have. If you aren’t so obsessed with your story that it’s constantly on your brain, chances are readers won’t become obsessed with it either.
Crosley picked out John to be his Night Buddy, for starters. There must have been a lot of reasons, but the only one Crosley mentions is middle names. Crosley doesn’t have one, and neither does John, so they have this in common. Crosley thinks it makes you a little sharper, too. And hey, we know that John is really sharp, and Crosley is definitely no slouch, so maybe there’s something in it.
The two characters couldn’t help but hit it off with each other. John doesn’t want to go to bed, so Crosley rescues him and takes him out on adventures. Crosley for his part gets a genial and very capable partner for his “Programs.” Sharing these adventures, the good and the bad parts, bonds the two all the more.
John and Crosley are very different, obviously, and before I go any further, I have to confess something. After I finished The Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I realized I had used a device made famous by Cervantes and Mark Twain. (When you steal, steal from the best.) I don’t know whether Mark Twain had Sancho Panza and the Don in mind when he wrote Tom Sawyer (I promise I wasn’t thinking of any of them when writing my story), but Tom and Huck are very similar to Cervantes’ two protagonists. There Tom is, the impractical romantic (Don Quixote), and there’s Huck, the no-nonsense, pragmatic sidekick that Tom needs in order to stay grounded (Sancho). Two pairs of opposites who rely on and complement each other.
Exactly like John and Crosley. John is the sensible, down-to-earth partner, and Crosley is goofy, full of wild ideas, and ready to fly off to Mars at a moment’s notice for a few pineapple cheesecakes. And just like those other characters, they appreciate and honor each other’s differences. They are a team that’s better than the sum of its parts. This, and their mutual adventures (and maybe a little insomnia) are the essence of their friendship.
And having no middle names doesn’t hurt.
It goes without saying that you need to be very familiar with any dialect to capture it on paper. You need to be able to speak it yourself and “hear it inside your head” while writing it down. You need some innate talent, a natural “good ear,” in the same way that good musicians are “born.”
With that said, writing dialect is a balancing act. The trick is to deviate from standard orthography enough to impart the flavor and the distinctive “sound” you want, but not so much that the reading becomes difficult. And try to err on the standard side. If you write too phonetically, few will understand you (or put in the effort to try to). This is true for the King’s English (a dialect), Brooklynese, or southern Georgia. By definition, dialect departs from standard speech, but don’t overdo it. Use just enough in your writing to get by.
Let me illustrate this point with two pretty fair practitioners of black American dialect, William Styron and Roark Bradford:
“’Yam,” Arnold replied . . . ‘Majah Riblees he lib dar, ap yonnah road ap yonnah . . . Yam, me tek ‘ee dar, missy, me tek ‘ee dar . . . Yam, missy, me tek ‘ee Majah Riblees!’” (Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner, pp. 262-3)
“’Anywhar you says, John Henry,’ Julie Anne told him. ‘You go and den turn around and you see me standin’ at yo’ side. All de time like dat, John Henry.’” (Bradford, John Henry, p. 121)
See the difference? To be fair, Styron was trying to make a sociological point with his almost un-readable Afro-Virginia patois, and that small sample is all that he uses. Otherwise his book would suffer.
I have to say that Bradford has struck a more proper balance. To be phonetically “true,” he could have written:
“’Anywhar you says, John Henry,’ Julie Anne told him. ‘You go an’ ‘en tuin roun’ an’ ya see me stannin’ at yo’ side. All uh time lak dat, John Henry.’”
But he didn’t take it this far, and his version works much better than my corruption of it. It gives us the Louisiana flavor without stressing the reader.
Dialect is an important component in much of children’s literature, notably in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. Twain tells us he used the dialect of Hannibal, Missouri, his home town. It reads like this:
“Hang the boy, cain’t I never learn anything? Ain’t he played me tricks enough for me t’know better? But old fools is the biggest fools there is. He pears t’know just how long he can tease before the anger starts.” (Twain, Tom Sawyer)
Dialect should be used gently in children’s literature, as it is above, since children are just starting to get the hang of reading grammatically correct English. However, using dialect does help them to sound out words and figure out their meanings based on that, so don’t be afraid to use dialect if you’re writing for kids!
Again, try to tread lightly whenever you use dialect. No reader, regardless of age, wants to be alienated by the language used in your book.
Writing a book that children will fall in love with at a young age is an important goal for many reasons, the most important of which is that one good book can turn a child into a reader for life. Do you remember your favorite book as a kid? Ol’ Sands does. When asked in an interview what his favorite book as a child was, he answered, “The OZ series. Critics said Frank Baum had no literary merit, and I understand what they meant, but kids weren’t interested in literary merit. They knew what they liked, and that guy had a captivating imagination if anybody ever did.”
So that brings us to the question, what makes a good children’s book? Should it possess the same qualities of adult literature? What makes it special?
If you’re an aspiring author or simply someone who loves juvenile fiction, and you’re trying to answer these questions yourself, here are some of the answers that we have found.
The more imagination used, the better. Kids love to use their imagination, and their favorite books tend to take their imaginations to new levels. Think about the most popular children’s books—Harry Potter, Where the Wild Things Are, even the Oz series—they all use enormous amounts of imagination, and kids remember them for life.
Strong, memorable characters. Children’s fiction is not the place to play around with unlikeable, complex characterization. You need a hero, and you need a hero that your young readers will want to be best friends with. In Night Buddies, John is the character that kids relate to, but Crosley is the one that stands out to them, because they want to be his best friend too!
There must be a lesson. Good children’s books don’t need to end with a cheesy, “And this is what he learned,” line, but they do need to offer kids insight into some kind of moral or life lesson that they are still trying to grasp in their lives. We go to books to understand something about the world we live in, whether we are reading as children or adults, and it is important that children get this from the very first books they read.
If you’re a writer, try incorporating these tips into your own stories and see how it goes. Let us know if you have any other answers to the question, “What makes a good children’s book?” in the comments!
Pictured above is author Sands Hetherington and his now grown-up son, John, in Brussels. The delightful world of Night Buddies first began as a bedtime tradition of storytelling between father and son. Sands and 7-year-old John had always done bedtime stories, but one night John presented his dad with a red crocodile named Crosley that he’d invented for an after-lights-out companion. They started making up John and Crosley episodes, and Crosley got to be a real member of the family. From those night time stories, Sands was able to craft an award-winning book series that combined John’s imagination with Sands’ love of travel and culture.
Sands named the curly-headed hero in the Night Buddies Book Series in honor of his son.
From this little snippet behind the Night Buddies stories, one can easily see the sweetness there is to reading with your children and creating with them, not just stories but memories as well.
What about you? Could one of your creative bedtime stories turn into something special?
You never know until you start….