As a high school English teacher, I know teenagers. I can tell how a book or activity will go over with a group of teens. Too dry? Not enough humor? Expect some snoozers. But a few months ago when a publisher approached me to write a book called Introduction to Mythology for Kids, the target reading age 6-9 took me aback. Could I write for kids as easily as I could write for teenagers?
Long story short: Once I found my flow, writing for this age group was a blast! But along the way, I had to overcome many hiccups related to word count, content, audience, and vocabulary. So I would like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way—just in case you have the desire to write a book for kids someday! So without further ado…
How to Write a Book for Kids: Tips and Suggestions
- Don’t let your story get too long. Children reading on their own are sometimes daunted by the length of a book. I once asked my daughter why she liked Percy Jackson more than Harry Potter, and she said, “Because the chapters were shorter.” From the mouth of babes. With Introduction to Mythology for Kids there were twelves stories, and each story had a 750 word limit. That’s a pretty short amount of space to tell a full-fledged story! Try it sometime if you don’t believe me. You might not agree with a minimized word count, but remember: If your book is intended for kids to read on their own, its chapters will need to be short enough to avoid frustrating the reader. In my book there was some flexibility with the word count; for example, I could make one myth 100 words shorter and put those words somewhere else. It was kind of like literary Tetris sometimes making it all fit perfectly, but it was a great lesson in word thrift.
- Focus your story. When dealing with a shortened word count, details are a luxury. Some details will have to be jettisoned completely. Some can be implied. For example, you don’t have to say, “Momotaro picked up the peach,” if you say, “Momotaro examined the peach in his hand.” When writing Introduction to Mythology for Kids, I realized every single word I chose was important, and I made each word count (because it did count—toward my total). So make sure your storytelling is focused to meet that word limit.
- Focus your dialogue. I love dialogue. I mean, almost all the materials you will find on this website are script-stories with tons of dialogue. But when coming up against a stringent word count, dialogue takes up space. When writing for kids, think of the key pieces of dialogue that build the plot of your story and avoid the rest. When writing my book, I kept asking myself, “Which pieces of dialogue are completely essential?” Every word counts (even those he said’s and she said’s).
- Think like a kid. You must always know your audience. For this book, I had to think like a kid. I ran every detail of the story through a kid’s perspective: Which parts of the story would “kid me” find interesting? Which would not impress me? This helped me choose which stories to include in the book and how to tell those stories.
- Run your writing by a real kid reader. Fortunately for me, I live with two kid readers who were (somewhat) willing to read through the stories and give me feedback. It was interesting to see which parts were their favorites and which weren’t, and this helped me hone my storytelling.
- Include some humor. Kids love humor just like adults do. My son’s favorite myth was the story of the hero Finn Mac Cool disguising himself as a baby to escape his enemy. Why? It’s filled with funny situations and jokes.
- Challenge your audience. Don’t talk down to them. No matter which age group I am writing for, I always try to include challenging vocabulary. Depending on your audience, that challenge level will be different. But never talk down to your audience. Meet them where they are but also try to elevate them at the same time.
- Make it appropriate. With beginning readers, parents will (hopefully) supervise what their children are reading. If you have included graphic violence, offensive language, or other inappropriate material, parents are not going to approve, so make your content appropriate. For example, the Russian folktale “Vasilisa the Brave” ends with the protagonist’s stepmother and stepsister being burned alive by magic fire. I thought that was a little morbid for the younger crowd, so I had the fire chase them into the forest instead. In my mind the same result happened. It just happened “off-stage” so to speak. (Fun fact: The word obscene means “off-stage” in Greek.)
- Teach a lesson but do it on the sly. Mark Twain said kids can smell a moral a mile away, and he’s right. But all stories teach a lesson. Some are just sneakier about it than others. Make sure your story teaches the lesson you are intending, and if it is too obvious, make it more subtle. I chose all of the myths in my book because I thought they taught a worthwhile lesson. Maui learns that he can use his awesome powers for good, Gluscabi learns nature needs balance, and Phaethon learns the hard way not to drive his dad’s car (sun chariot). As I adapted the stories, I made sure to bring out these themes without making them obvious. Here’s another tip: Never end with “And the moral of the story is…” If the reader can’t discover it on their own, simply reading it at the end will have zero impact.
- Add some illustrations (if possible). When I was a young reader, illustrations made such an impact on me. Adding a few illustrations to your book will add to the wonder and thrill of reading your book. In the past I have illustrated my own books, but for Introduction to Mythology for Kids, I was fortunate enough to have a professional artist, Kailey Whitman, provide the illustrations. They added just the right touch of whimsy to the stories.
Maybe you have a book for kids waiting to be written. I hope these tips will help you in some small way, and I wish you all the best!
Introduction to Mythology for Kids is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. Click here to find out more information. Note: I do earn money from product links on this website.