By BookBaby author Scott McCormick
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Because of their word count, many authors think that writing a children’s book is easy. But it’s precisely because of how short and uncomplicated they are that writing children’s books can be challenging. You only have a few hundred words in which to convey a universal truth through the adventures of a memorable character in a way that’s going to inspire a young reader.
Six characteristics of a good children’s book
Although children’s books come in different shapes, styles, and voices, the books that are consistently recommended by parents, librarians, and teachers all share these six common characteristics. If you can incorporate these elements in your story, perhaps you will be able to create a classic that will make parents and young children eager to return to your book for generations
1. Age-appropriate themes and language
One key characteristic of a children’s book is that it is made to be read by or to children. That means the language, themes, ideas, and plot have to be age appropriate. But children come in all ages, and the developmental differences from year to year are huge. For example, a chapter book about a time-traveling tree house is going to confuse a two-year-old, and no seven-year-old wants to read a book about potty training.
So the first thing you need to decide is, what age are you writing for? It helps if you have children or grandchildren of your own so you can get a real-world feel for your audience, but failing that, it’s a good idea to check out this amazing list from BookRiot, which provides examples of great books, broken down by age group.
Once you think you know who your target audience is, visit the library to check out a few titles in your selected age range to get a better feel for the vocabulary, length, and themes.
By the way, a good way to test the age-appropriateness of your book is to run a Lexile Measure analysis.
2. Central theme
There’s a great quote from William Nicholson’s Shadowlands: “We read to know we are not alone.” This is important to keep in mind when considering what makes a good children’s book because, at the end of the day, kids want to know that they are not the only ones dealing with their experiences, fears, concerns, and insecurities.
Your children’s book needs to have a strong central theme that is common to many children. That doesn’t mean your book has to have a lesson, per se. It just means your book should show characters dealing with common problems that young readers may also experience at that age.
Some common themes in children’s books are friendship, family, jealousy, patience, sharing, love, courage, and generally growing up. If none of those appeal to you, ask yourself what are kids of your readers’ age afraid of? Fitting in? Being left out? Loss? The monster under the bed? Once you have a strong theme, you’re ready for the next step.
3. Compelling characters and arcs
A good book has compelling characters that readers can relate to, and this is just as true for children’s books as it is for adult fiction. Make sure your main character wants something that kids can relate to. In Corduroy, for example, the little bear wants a family. In Where the Wild Things Are, Max needs a way to work through his anger.
Neil Gaiman once said he likes to give his characters funny hats. By this, he means he likes to make sure each character is memorable. So a good story should have dynamic and memorable characters that kids will want to spend time with. Consider Ian Falconer’s dramatic Olivia the pig, Mo Willems’s excitable pigeon, or, to bring us back to the hat analogy, the cat in Dr. Suess’ The Cat in the Hat.
4. Aids in childhood development
Children’s books should help kids to develop, not just their reading skills, but also to learn lessons about life. This ties in to the themes we mentioned earlier, but it’s important to spell out one key difference between children’s books and adult fiction: Children’s books always have a happy ending. We want kids to see characters they can relate to dealing with problems that mirror their own experiences, but it is vital for kids to see that these problems can be overcome.
5. Eye-catching illustrations
When it comes to picture books and early readers, illustrations play a huge role in the story. The art in children’s books should immediately convey the spirit of the story (this also goes for your book cover design). Consider this example, from my book Mr. Pants: Camping Catastrophe, illustrated by R.H. Lazzell.
Or this example from the excellent Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell. Both are examples of comic-book-style children’s books, but they each have a very different energy, style, and flavor.
In the best children’s books, the pictures don’t simply mirror the words, they enhance the story, possibly even allowing for irony, as in this example from Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis.
If you can illustrate your own books, that’s great, but I would only recommend you do so if your art has a real flair that kids are drawn to. Otherwise, your best bet is to hire a professional. (If you are trying for a traditional publishing deal, simply leave the illustrations out.)
6. Explore the fantastic
Kids love it when they read about characters who lead interesting lives and go on fantastic adventures. So, when writing your children’s book, think big. Go to space or deep under the sea. Fill your book with taco-eating dragons or monsters who are scared of monsters. The sillier, nuttier, more outrageous your ideas are, the better.
Let’s get your children’s book published
Now that you’ve incorporated all six essential elements of a great children’s book, it’s time to get your book published. If you are going the traditional route, start sending out query letters to agents. If, however, you want to self-publish, BookBaby’s Children’s Book Self-Publishing Package includes everything you need to professionally publish your children’s book.
How To Create A Children’s Picture Book
How to Get a Book Published
Write Your Query Letter Before You Write Your Next Book
12 Character Archetypes to Know Before You Start Writing
How to Publish a Graphic Novel
This BookBaby blog article What Makes a Good Children’s Book: 6 Characteristics appeared first on and was stolen from BookBaby Blog .
This post first appeared on The BookBaby Blog - How To Write, Self-Publish & Market Your Book, please read the originial post: here