By Dennis Mellersh
If the book you are planning to write is a book for children, one of the main temptations to avoid is the intuitive tendency of the beginner writer in this genre to oversimplify the writing, or to “talk down” to an reading audience comprised of children. Part of learning how to write a book for children is training yourself as a writer to avoid this tendency.
Whether your book is one that will be read “to” children or one that will be read “by” children, the advice is the same – if you are writing as if you need to constantly hit your message with a hammer, children will sense that the writing is forced and not realistic, and you will lose them as an audience for your book.
Often when we talk to/with children many of us have a tendency to talk in a different tone of voice, and use different language and context than we would when talking with an adult. We have a tendency to talk “to” children rather than “with” children and have a real conversation with them.
At its worst this tendency can result in talking to children as if they were a baby or a family pet. Carried over into your writing, such as in a book for children, this will result in failure of your writing efforts, particularly if you’re a planning on writing a book that will be read “by” children.
It is difficult for us as adults to remember exactly how we felt or understood life when we were children ourselves. The result is that we don’t instinctively know much about children in terms of how they think and react to different situations.
The novelist John Steinbeck talked about writers generally not knowing much about children in his Journal of a Novel. In the Journal he discussed his thinking concerning how he planned to write about children in his novel East of Eden.
His comments are instructive in terms of helping us understand not only how to write “about” children but also to understand how to write “for” children (which is what we are concerned with in this article):
”I am going to try to go into the minds of children, but more than that I am going to try to set those minds down on paper. And these are not children as they are conceived by adults but children as they are to and among themselves...Most of what I read about children is crap. Grown people forget...children are no more alike than adults.”
Later in the Journal Steinbeck went on to say that in general, children in literature have been badly written, and particularly that they have been “underwritten.”
This article has focused on one important aspect of writing for children. For more detailed and general information, there is an excellent and thorough how-to article on Wikihow on the mechanics and style requirements of writing for children: