Writing Children’s Stories

INTRODUCTION:

While fiction and nonfiction books inform, entertain, teach, and influence adults, their children’s counterparts change and mold who children are and become and therefore carry an additional responsibility.

“As adults, we are used to the inaccuracies, distortions, half-truths, and white lies served up in print,” according to Jane Yolen in her book, “Writing Books 토토추천 for Children” (The Writers, Inc., 1973, p. 3). “We read cynically, with a kind of built-in despair we sometimes disguise as sentimentality… We are already changed, you see.”

Children, having yet to lose their innocence, read with an open heart and a pure soul, which exudes trust, truth, love, and unquestioning belief. It is that belief that provides the essence of their imagination, enabling them to create the world in their heads that they think reflects the one on the outside of them.

“… The elements of good writing for children are the same as those of good writing for adults,” Yolen continues (ibid, p. 3). “At times, however, their application needs to be adjusted for readers with more limited knowledge and experience.”

HISTORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE:

Children’s literature can trace its roots to the books that first appeared in Western Europe. Childhood, then not considered a separate development stage, was viewed as belonging to “small adults” who still needed to be guided and instilled with the proper morals.

“Until recently, a common characteristic of juvenile books in all cultures has been the didactic quality, using entertainment to instruct readers in ethical and social behavior,” points out Connie C. Epstein in her book, “”The Art of Writing for Children” (Archon Books, 1991, p. 6).

The still-undesignated genre emerged for two reasons. Certain book subjects and styles, first and foremost, became popular with younger readers, and publishers, secondarily, realized that there was commercial potential in producing them, thus sparking a separate genre.

Very early, but later-famous titles included Aesop’s Fables, written by William Canxton in 1484, “The Hare and the Tortoise,” “Ol’ Yeller,” “Tales of Mother Goose,” “Robinson Crusoe,” “Gulliver’s Travels,” and translations of “Grimm’s Fairytales” from the German and “Hans Christian Anderson” from the Danish.

As children’s literature evolved, it increasingly assumed a fantasy theme with such classics as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” of 1865, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”,” The Wind in the Willows,” “Winnie-the-Poo,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Another emerging approach was that of realism, which enabled authors to explore and capture the lives of real people. Well-known titles include Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” Margaret Sidney’s “The Five Little Peppers” of 1880, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” of 1932.

One of the principle distinguishing characteristics of children’s literature is its dual-artistic make-up-that is, it features both text and illustrations. The earlier the intended age, the greater is the percentage of the latter.

“Not only has children’s literature produced fine writers,” explains Epstein (ibid, p. 5), “it has produced a home for gifted graphic talent. Throughout the history of the genre, illustrations and design have been considered an integral part of writing for the young in contrast to the largely decorative function they served in the production of adult books. At times, in fact, the pictures accompanying a story have proved to be more memorable than the text… ”

It was not until 1918, or more than a century ago, that the Macmillan Publishing Company established the first separate and purposeful juvenile editorial department and public libraries created dedicated children’s rooms not only to display books, but in which to hold readings and other events.

DUAL APPEAL:

While adults browse bookstores and Internet websites for titles that spark interest in them, children’s literature is not necessarily purchased, at least in the early stages, by the readers themselves. Instead, it must first pass the “parent and librarian tests,” as both buy what they believe will serve the educational and entertainment needs of young people and they, in turn, determine the accuracy of those who represent them. Based upon age and developing personality, they may or may not agree with their purchasers.

Age also signifies an additional parameter. If it is early enough, “reading” may entail an act done to them, not by them.

READERSHIP DIVISIONS:

Genres are as widely varied for children as they are for adults and include picture, how-to, social science, pure science, and biography books, as well as fictional teenage stories and novels. The author, however, needs to make additional determinations before he undertakes such a juvenile project, including the following.

1) Targeted age group.

2) Chosen genre: fiction, creative nonfiction, pure nonfiction, poetry.

3) Subject.

4) Length: This varies from 1,500 words for picture books to 50,000 words for novels without illustrations.

While there can also be variations between age group designations, the following can serve as a guide.

1) Beginning Reader: Books appropriate for this group are generally the picture type, are read by parents, teachers, and librarians, and facilitate the learning process by incorporating participation that enables readers to repeat words and sounds to foster learning.

2) Middle Grade: Books for this 8- to 12-year-old group, which can offer widely varied subjects, can span between 10,000 and 30,000 words, be subdivided into chapters, and contain few illustrations.

3) Older Readers: A third longer than middle grade books, older reader literature, for those on the threshold of the teenage years, can encompass a wide range of subjects, particularly in the fictional genre, but often focus on the changing relationships between boys and girls and can feature peer group themes. The author, however, must become well versed in age-appropriate actions, concerns, speech, and expressions to create believable plots and characters. Phrases such as “That’s so cool” and “That’s so rad” can quickly change with age and progressing generation.

CHILDREN’S BOOK TYPES:

Tantamount to writing effective literature for children is the ability to understand and capture the age-appropriate perspective of the intended reader. This workshop discusses picture books, story books, concept books, alphabet books, familiar-theme stories, campfire tales, and fantasy stories.

PICTURE BOOKS:

As its designation implies, picture books are visually appealing to children because of their abundance of illustrations, which both tell and support the story with the actual text whose word count is usually low. This type of literature, perhaps more than any other, may leave the author with the dilemma of being both a writer and an illustrator, the latter of which may be beyond his capability, thus leaving him with the choice of hiring a collaborative artist or hoping for a traditional publishing house contract, in which case the graphics are created in it.

Because of the prevalence of pictures, it is often wondered if this genre constitutes a book with illustrations or a collection of illustrations supported by words.

“Essentially, there are two views of a picture book,” according to Yolen (op. cit., p. 22). “The fact is that it is a palette with words. The second is that it is a story with illustrations. People who ascribe to the first view are artists. Most writers subscribe to the second. Both are correct.”

Collaboration, in which a fusion of the respective artistic talents occurs, is the key to the genre’s quality. And while the textual author may not be an illustrator himself, what he writes is still, in essence, his story and he needs to provide input and direction.

There are three fundamentals to producing such books.

1) Simplicity: Because of their readers’ undeveloped minds, they must incorporate a single, simplistic idea and not multiple ones. Early-age understanding and conceptualization is limited.

2) Structure: Book lengths are equally limited, usually spanning between 32 and 48 pages of text and illustrations and include the title, the copyright, and the dedication. Pictures should illustrate the story’s action.

3) Readership: Picture books must first appeal to the parents and librarians who purchase them and then to the children who will either read them or have them read to them.

STORYBOOKS:

“The storybook tells a small tale in a few words,” advises Yolen (ibid, p. 29). “It is simple, but not simple-minded. Fairly direct, it usually has a small cast of characters, and runs no longer than 15 type-written pages… (It) can be full of magic or mystery or nonsense.”

CONCEPT BOOKS:

Concept books deal with ideas, problems, and concepts in a creative manner that both amuses and teaches children within the kindergarten to third grade range. Entailing a specific concept, which is then expanded, they can discuss and illustrate such topics as what is time, what is the difference between big and little, what is rain, where do animals sleep at night, and where does the sun go after dark.

ALPHABET BOOKS:

Although alphabet books are ideal introductions for beginning readers and for describing and illustrating something as basic as their A-B-C’s, they sound deceptively simple. Yet doing so effectively and creatively may be more difficult than envisioned.

In their very simplest form, they feature a capital letter and a picture illustrating the word that begins with it on each page, such as “A for apple” and “B for boat.” But as a book, it should incorporate a collective theme or some aspect which strings the alphabetical lessons together. If it entails animals, then the letters should represent them, as in “A for aardvark” and “B for buffalo,” and can be supported by prose or poetry lines like “Aardvarks’ noses are odd, like the length of a rod.”

FAMILIAR THEMED STORIES:

Although antiquated and medieval story themes that include conquered dragons, fought battles, maidens won, and chivalrous deeds are not applicable for modern readers, many of their aspects and characters remain valid if the author remolds them and gives them a current plot. Refreshed, they may still incorporate the same morals and lessons, however.

“Folk stories and fairytales are a way of looking at life, and they carry important messages to the conscious, pre-conscious, and subconscious mind… ,” according to Yolen (ibid, p. 52). “They offer new dimensions to the child’s imagination, suggesting to him images with which he can structure his daydreams.”

“Great Hall” stories are those in which the hero or heroine experiences one magical adventure after another in search of a particular reward and are not unlike those characters in modern times who pursue a path, often paved with internal and external antagonists, to achieve a specific goal or dream.

These Great Hall stories usually have tag openings, such as “Once upon a time.”

CAMPFIRE TALES:

There are four types of so-called “campfire tales.”

1) Cumulative stories: Ideal for very young readers or listeners, cumulative stories, which are simplistic in nature, are often read so many times that children begin to memorize them, resulting in classics. Examples include Henny Penny and The House that Jack Built.

2) Talking animal tales: The three integral elements of such tales, which include the likes of The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, are animals that speak with human voices, a simplistic lesson that results from them, and great fun for early readers.

3) Silly tales: As its name implies, this type of story usually features a numskull character who does something so outrageous that it ends up being comical. A tale written by Ann McGarren, for instance, involves a man and his son who seek to trade their donkey at a nearby fair, but are unable to figure out how to get “the item” there.

4) Magic tales: Characterized by enchantment, magic tales incorporate witches, wizards, giants, ogres, magical animals and objects, and wise men and women, but the author must infuse them with an innovative or fresh angle, since the theme has been exhaustively used.

 

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