Writing for children

Writing for children, by adult authors, that is, can be both a pleasure and a pain. Difficult, yet easy. Think of all the books you enjoyed as a child. What made them so enchanting, enjoyable and memorable? Was it the characters, the storyline or their plausibility? Now, as an adult author of children’s books, you are tasked with reproducing the same magic for your titles. How do you go about it?

The first consideration, of course, is to be particular in our definition of ‘children’. As a rule of thumb, we will limit ourselves to defining children as those who are 12 years of age and below; with those between 13-18 years considered as teens (in all fairness, though, they are many teens’ books enjoyed by children, more so, those on the upper limits of ‘children’). Now that we have a working definition, we can proceed to the next sequence of children’s writing.

What is the age-range of the children you have in mind for your book? This will dictate the kind of book you will author. For instance, if you are targeting pre-schoolers, pictorial books- teaching concepts such as the alphabet, numbers or just plain colouring books – will work just fine. For school going children, depending on what level of schooling they are in, you can increase the number of words in your story while dramatically decreasing illustrations.

Genres that you can tackle include traditional literature (fables, myths, legends, fairy tales), fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction), non-fiction, comics, and autobiography and biography. A cardinal rule for writing for children is to be interesting and fun. As such, be conscious in your choice of words -the simpler, the better- and in how your characters interact with one another and why. You can intersperse your story with a few difficult words such that as the children enjoy your story, they also get to build a formidable repertoire of vocabulary.

That said, for you to be a successful children’s writer, it is prudent to seek the advice of those who are gatekeepers to the magical world of children’s books. These includes parents, teachers, curriculum developers and publishers of children’s books. They can advise on what works and what doesn’t (and the regulatory requirements if your books are targeted at being part of the school syllabus) as far as children literature go.

One last thing; only by writing and rewriting can you master the how of doing a children’s book as you will get invaluable feedback to guard you in this most arduous yet enjoyable task. For material, think of your childhood- what ticked your fancy?  What were your interests then? When you lay down on the grass and stared at the sky, did the clouds morph into sheep or dragons? Let your imagination run and soar and you will be on your way to drafting a great children’s masterpiece.

Selected works to familiarise yourself with children’s literature include: Aesop’s Fables, Ladybird series, Harry Potter series, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Spirit Flyer series, Barbara Kimenye’s Moses series, Goosebumps series, Oluoch Madiang’s In the Land of the Kitchen, Francis Atulo’s Safari ya Angani, Hekaya za Abunuwasi, Njamba Nene and the Flying Bus by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, The Adventures of Asterix, The Adventures of Tintin, Dr. Seuss’ books, Matilda by Roald Dahl, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.