But, perhaps you’re thinking of writing a children’s book yourself in order to get more children, even your own, more into reading. Over the years, children’s book writers have discovered eight key elements that make for children’s books loved by all. If you can work even three of these elements in your children’s book manuscript, you will have a great children’s book that could well be enjoyed by even the most reluctant readers.
Great Children’s Books Need Humor
While we all need some humor in our lives, making kids laugh is an important part of building a child’s interest in reading. This is because laughter helps create positive associations with reading. But, you need to aim the type of humor at the expected audience of the book, as different humor works best for different age groups.
- In picture books meant for children ages 0-6, humor should very visual and broad
- In easy readers and picture books for ages 6 and up, you can introduce verbal humor such as double meanings, puns, and other wordplay
- In chapter books, kids will be able to handle jokes with a setup and payoff that plays out over several scenes.
At any age, dialogue and character’s other interactions can be made innately humorous. Characters clearly having fun with their surroundings, situations, and with one another make for much livelier reading.
Great Children’s Books Need Well-Defined Characters
One of the main keys of a great children’s book is having characters that kids can identify strongly with right away. This is particularly essential for reluctant readers. No matter what the character looks like on the outside - whether he or she is an alien, a clown, or a talking dog - that character needs to embody the perspective of a child from within.
The best way to create these well-defined characters is to look at issues and situations that children may face in their own lives. It also involves the characters seeing the world in a childlike way. Just like any good character in any great book, children’s book characters must have multidimensional personalities. This means they have strengths and weaknesses, that may be more clearly defined in kids’ books than in books meant for older audiences, where those strengths and weaknesses may be more subtle. The characters need to feel real enough for kids to care about them and want to follow them throughout the story.
What about nonfiction books for kids? In particular, great biographies for children will often focus on elements of the subject’s life that are relevant to their target audience. They will make the person like someone they could know in their own lives and even be friends with, which makes historical personalities a lot easier for kids to like and follow.
Then, what do you do with nonfiction books on certain subjects such as events or fields of study? Great children’s nonfiction books usually use a character or characters that explore those subjects along with their readers. That way, readers are literally learning alongside the characters in the book.
Great Children’s Books Need a Fast-Paced Plot
Kids who love reading don’t mind reading through a few chapters to watch the story unfold. On the other hand, reluctant readers will easily lose patience. Many great children’s books start with the action by the very first paragraph. By the end of the first chapter, readers should know a lot about the main character or characters. The main conflict or problem that the characters face should also be very clear.
Once you get up to chapter books, having subplots is fine. But, be careful not to have too many subplots. Otherwise, having the story branch off into too many directions will get in the way of moving the story forward. You want to write a page-turner, one that sticks to the main characters and the central conflict or problem.
Great Children’s Books Have Concise Chapters
In children’s books, each chapter should only contain one clear event. In nonfiction, each chapter should only cover one specific point. Also, each chapter should have a clear story arc of its own: a beginning, a middle, and an end. That means if a child only wants to read a chapter at a time, it will still be satisfying to the reader. But, if the chapter ends on a high note, it may entice even reluctant readers to read more to see what happens.
Another way to go with children’s books is to create what are called episodic novels. In these books, each chapter stands alone as a short story. These are actually sometimes done in adult books, as well. But in kids’ books, they are obviously much more simplified. Having a book full of short stories, even if they are connected in some way, make it easy for kids who can only sit still that long still get something out of reading.
Great Children’s Books Must Be Relevant to Children
It’s extremely important to make sure that the ideas and themes that form the basis of a kids’ book plot must be meaningful, relevant and applicable to the reader’s own life. This is especially true of nonfiction, too. Kids’ stories need to be told from a kid’s frame of reference, not from an adult perspective. Also, remember that not every kid’s book needs to have a lesson. Some books can be just for fun. Just like with any writing, write to your audience, not at them.
Great Children’s Books Should Have Suitable, But Challenging Text
Children’s books are meant to be a way for young readers to develop their reading skills. So, they need to be written in a challenging but not overwhelming way. Use active sentences with concrete nouns and verbs, which will help tell the story as clear as possible. When writing for a broad range of writers, such as ages six to eight or nine to twelve, you will want to make the vocabulary accessible to the younger end of the age range, but still keep it appealing for readers at the older end of the range.
Many children’s books are written with very specific ages in min. That way, they can be written with a particular focus on the target audience’s reading skills and vocabulary. Trying to aim at too large of an age range, say ages six to twelve, could leave older readers feeling bored or younger readers confused.
Great Children’s Books Should Present Topics in a New & Unusual Way
Especially with nonfiction, children’s books should appeal to a child’s personal interests. In fact, many reluctant readers will choose nonfiction over fiction for that very reason. Still, whether your children’s book is fiction or nonfiction, it’s very possible to blend the two by taking topics your child is interested in, but presenting them in a new and unusual way. In fact, this is the very reason that many children’s books are written in the first place.
Some of the best children’s books, fiction or nonfiction, will find a new or unusual slant to even topics that have been done again and again. Whatever approach is taken, using humor and fun while sneaking in some educational value is usually a recipe for an awesome kid’s book.
Great Children’s Books Must Have Visual Appeal
Books can be intimidating for some kids. So, the more visual appeal that a book has, the more likely a kid will want to read it. While not all authors have a say in a book’s design, especially when traditionally published, self-published authors and author/illustrators might. Some elements that add visual appeal to children’s books include:
- Generous use of white space
- Illustrations elaborating upon the text
- Larger typeface
Anything that breaks up text or makes the string of words less intimidating for young readers works very well in picture books. Some chapter books can have multiple illustrations, too, which can help more reluctant readers who appreciate the added visual elements.
If you can produce a great children’s book manuscript with all eight of these elements, you may easily have a bestselling children’s book on your hands. Even if you can just work in the majority of these elements in some way, you are much more likely to have even reluctant readers enjoy your work. After all, you want your book to inspire more kids to read.