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Writing

How to Write a Children’s Book

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 18, 2019 • 6 min read

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Judy Blume Teaches Writing

As adult reading migrates toward short-form articles on websites and social media platforms, the literary world has aligned more closely with one of its most enduring audiences: children. Children’s book publishing remains robust in the United States and throughout the English-speaking world. Simply put, there’s a higher percentage of regular readers among children than among adults.

In addition to a robust audience, there’s an immense array of topics available for children’s authors. From fantasy to mystery to comedy, the same genres that adults read are often appealing to children. As such, many aspiring authors pursue writing children’s books for their first books. Here is some key information to be aware of if you set out to publish a children’s book.

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5 Different Types of Children’s Books

Children’s books are frequently organized by the age group of the target audience:

  1. Picture books: This type of book is typically written for children ranging from a few months old all the way up to age 4. As the age of the intended reader increases, a picture book will increase in word count. Baby books tend to have 300 words or fewer. By the time children are in preschool, they are able to handle upwards of 1,000 words and may be able to do some rudimentary reading on their own.
  2. Early reader books: These books target youths aged 5-7. Early readers are in the early stages of elementary school—kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. A primary focus of these grades is teaching independent reading, and so these books are designed to be read without adult assistance. Sometimes known as children’s storybooks, they tend to have a healthy amount of illustrations. The word count of these books can range from 1,000 all the way to roughly 5,000.
  3. Chapter books: Sometimes called young readers books, chapter books are, as their name suggests, subdivided into chapters. They are aimed at children in the age range from 6-9 (or roughly first through fourth grades). They tend to be capped around 10,000 words, and they introduce progressively challenging vocabulary words.
  4. Middle-grade books: These books are for late elementary schoolers and early middle schoolers—think ages 9-12. Another step up from chapter books, they tend to have more challenging vocabulary, few illustrations, and upwards of 60,000 words. Children this age can appreciate humor, mystery, and even small thrills. Learn about the difference between middle-grade books and young adult novels here.
  5. Young adult novels: YA novels target older teens and even adults. They tend to have teenage protagonists but many adult characters. Genres expand further here, including fantasy and science fiction. YA novels can push beyond 100,000 words.

7 Things to Consider Before Writing a Children’s Book

As you set out to write your first children’s book, you should learn from the wisdom of established children’s book authors. In many ways, the desires of young readers mimic those of adult readers, yet not all adult authors are equally successful when attempting to be children's book writers.

Here are a few things to consider before writing a children’s book yourself:

  1. Don’t worry about moral lessons. People think that everything written for children needs to have some sort of moral lesson. But it’s good to remember that some books can have entertainment as their goal. Adults have the freedom to read whatever they like. Why can’t children be afforded the same privilege to read for kicks alone?
  2. Kids want to be entertained. Kids want to be entertained, and you are competing with movies and technology in an unprecedented way. You need to write something they’ll want to read as much as watching something on their iPad. Approach your novel with this in mind, and you just might get a kid hooked on reading.
  3. Tune in to your target audience. In order to entertain, you have to be tuned in to your target age group. Middle-grade books are generally aimed at kids aged 7-12 years old, and YA fiction is geared toward kids aged 11-15. Interestingly enough, a huge number of adults now read YA novels—which is also something to keep in mind.
  4. Kids like to read about kids who are just slightly older than them. Most of the main characters in the Goosebumps novels, for instance, are 12-year-olds, and the books are geared toward kids somewhat younger.
  5. Pay attention to kids. If you have kids of your own, pay attention to what they and their friends find interesting. If you know teachers, talk to them. Ask your friends and family about their kids, and what they like to do. Kids are smart, and they can immediately sense if something they’re reading is out of touch.
  6. If you can pull it off, kids make the best fans. Children have a deep desire to live inside the books they read. Create a world they can’t wait to go back to and you’ve developed a captive audience that’s difficult to replicate among adults.
  7. Keep your stories full of short, descriptive sentences. Kids don’t have to learn new words or struggle to get through a passage. There’s nothing to keep them from reading on to the next chapter. So be aware of your readers’ vocabulary level. The difference between a 10-year-old’s and 15-year-old’s reading ability is often staggering, and you have to write in such a way that kids find your story both interesting and accessible.

Be aware that professionals throughout the children’s publishing industry—from executives to editors to your fellow children’s book writers—also keep these ideas in mind when they’re evaluating the work of new authors. Even if you plan on self-publishing, these principles will help you produce a great children’s book that connects with your target audience.

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4 Tips for Writing a Children’s Book

A good children’s story is made possible by an author’s creative instincts and natural gift for storytelling. But anyone, no matter how talented, can benefit from these tips for writing a great children’s book:

  1. To write for kids, you must think like a kid. The topics that may interest you as an adult may not be as compelling to a young reader. There are two ways to tap the mindset of a child. One is to recall your own experiences reading children’s literature. The other is to seek out kids in your own life and ask them questions. Their answers will be important since they’re your target audience.
  2. Read children’s literature by other authors. While you don’t want your work to be derivative, you do want to understand what works in the form. Seek out the work of established greats—from Richard Scarry to J.K. Rowling—but also examine the books of the lesser-known authors who will be your more direct competition. See what works in their writing, as well as things that might be improved upon.
  3. Focus on appropriate vocabulary. A good children’s book will challenge a young reader to improve their vocabulary, yet it won’t overwhelm them with so many new words that they can’t follow the story. When in doubt, err on the side of ambition. You might be amazed to re-read children’s classics like E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and see just how advanced the vocabulary is.
  4. Revise your book using kids’ input. All books go through revisions from the first draft to the final published copy. Whether you plan to go the traditional publishing or self-publishing route, you’ll want to follow this process for your own book. The key, however, is to include actual kids in your revision process. Ask them to read drafts of your book and offer suggestions. They will be thrilled to share their opinion, and they will undoubtedly offer feedback that no adult could have provided. Also remember that much like an adult, a child reader is simply one person with an opinion. Ultimately your book is your own, and all editing decisions ultimately run through you. Using a combination of children’s feedback, adult feedback, and your own instincts, you will be able to make your manuscript the best book it can possibly be.

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