Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Too Difficult for Grownups

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”Madeleine L’Engle

I love writing for children. Some people have the mistaken idea that writing for children is easy. Some think that you water down good literature for children. A few even try to talk down to children. That can never work.

If you think about it, children are, in truth, small people. They are intelligent and have wonderful brains and active imaginations. They are developing understanding and compassion, along with a sense of humor. What they lack is experience.

Are some topics too complicated for children? Not many. Children's minds are capable of understanding more than we give them credit for. As adults, we limit the possibilities because of our lack of understanding.

I love children's books with big ideas and important topics. When writing for children think simplify rather than water down. Distill the story to its purest essence and simplify the vocabulary according to the age of the intended audience. Does this mean you can’t use big words? Not at all. It means that each word should be well-chosen and no word can be wasted. Children love the magic of words. What child has not been captivated by Jabberwocky?

Since I love writing for the picture book crowd, my manuscripts must be under 1,000 words. This leaves no room for fluff. Every word must count. Since picture books are usually read aloud, they must be interesting to adults as well as children. A well-written picture book can captivate readers of all ages.

Picture books are a hard-sell in today’s market, perhaps a side-effect of our media craze. The high cost of publishing a picture book is a factor, and the recession isn’t helping. (Oops! I forgot that the recession is over.) E-readers are just beginning to become picture book friendly. I suppose there will always be room in the publishing world for an extraordinary picture book. What will make it extraordinary? Will it be quirky, delightful, funny, unusual, original, or all of the above?

Excuse me. I’m off to write a quirky, delightful, funny, unusual, original picture book.

Linda Garner


Dawn said...

Great post! I work for the Young Alberta Book Society, an organization that creates programs to help kids read. You are dead on when talking about the differences in writing for you - and that despite what many think, it isn't easier! I have tremendous respect for picture-book writers especially.

loveable_homebody said...

Hey Linda,

This is a great post. You say so many important things. I think so many people don't realize how intelligent and perceptive children are. It's insulting and, as you said, condescending. Your career is so difficult, I'm sure. I hope you garner the respect you deserve and not too much disrespect from ignorant adults. I hope you have fun writing!