What Makes a Great Children’s Book?
By Lisa Wong, author
It may sound obvious, but it must be said: Writing for adults is not the same as writing for children, and it’s not merely about their level of comprehension. The genres may be similar, but the codes and requirements vary massively.
They are not simply smaller versions of grown-ups, they are girls and boys with unlimited imaginations. Any children’s story should try and help flourish this creativity and aid in a better understanding of the world around them.
Include relatable characters
It’s vital kids get to experience a connection with the main characters of any book they read. This not only helps them get immersed in the story but also teaches them to understand their own emotions better.
A great story allows children to see themselves reflected in the different characters, in one way or another. It helps them develop empathy. By putting themselves in the character’s shoes, they grow to comprehend how their actions may affect others.
Through these characters, children may encounter feelings such as joy, sadness, frustration, or anger, and learn how they should deal with them in a healthy and natural way.
Reedsy has a nice guide about writing characters for children’s books that you can find here.
Make the dialogue sound natural
Children notice when a conversation seems off! Try and write a story that sounds natural, resembling the way kids actually speak. This is, admittedly, easier said than done. It may be a good idea to try and listen to children chat among themselves. Don’t forget to read your own dialogue out loud, as it might seem right when on paper, but come out wrong when actually spoken.
Though it’s used to show the character’s personalities and perspectives, it’s fundamental you remember that dialogue should push the story forward.
Try to teach a lesson
A good children’s book should help its reader learn a valuable lesson. It doesn’t necessarily need to be obvious, such as stories that guide them through the process of learning about numbers, colors, or animals.
It can be subtle, making the little ones use their reason to comprehend why the characters acted the way they did.
Lessons such as diversity, friendship, forgiveness, and responsibility can be taught in entertaining and whimsical ways. It’s more important to show the children how they should behave instead of telling them outright.
For example, the Little Engine That Could is a classic because of its positive message to readers and inspirational storyline. The story illustrates important points without just saying things outright.
Don’t forget about the plot.
Children might not be as demanding as adults, but that’s no reason to underestimate their love for a good book. Though the plot for a children’s book will undoubtedly be more straightforward than one for grown-ups, authors shouldn’t believe any silly story will do the trick. There should be exciting elements that catch their attention, such as a problem that needs to be resolved. Even cliff-hangers, if we’re dealing with a chapter book, are an excellent way of having children begging to read the story over and over again.
Always include a happy ending
Children don’t deal well with a lack of resolution at the end of their stories, at least not until they grow a bit older. Though it’s a good idea to include problems to the plot as previously discussed, it’s also essential to end your book on a high note.
Kids can grow frustrated with confusing or sad endings, so make sure every situation introduced through the book is adequately resolved before the last page. It’s important to teach children that hardship does exist in the world: This is displayed through the problems posed in the book, but in the end, these problems can be solved, and perseverance is rewarded.
Don’t forget about the pictures!
Pictures in children’s books should never be a mere afterthought. They need to be considered from the get-go, integrated into the plot in an organic and engaging manner.
Depending on the child’s age, the required amount of pictures will change, but it should never be a last-minute decision. Pictures should ideally add a new element to the plot, or help clarify certain concepts, making the story more entertaining for the little ones. They aren’t there to be decorative, but rather to help kids connect certain concepts and ideas with the words they are reading. If you don’t have the budget to get your own pictures, you could also use some multimedia fiction sites that provide stock photos or art libraries. For example, Commaful has a number of tools that are designed specifically to help writers get access to great photos and align photos with text. I’ve been told they have features like printing and more in the works as well, making it a pretty good resource.