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"Writing for Children"- creating books for different age groups

"Writing for Children"- creating books for different age groups

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Published by Dawn Herzog Jewell
Gain tips for how to create books for children of different age groups. This is an excerpt from MAI's booklet, "Writing for Children: ideas and techniques to produce stories that children will love" by Pat Alexander and Larry Brook.
Gain tips for how to create books for children of different age groups. This is an excerpt from MAI's booklet, "Writing for Children: ideas and techniques to produce stories that children will love" by Pat Alexander and Larry Brook.

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Published by: Dawn Herzog Jewell on Nov 01, 2012
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Media Associates International (MAI)www.littworld.org 
An excerpt from
Writing for Children
 by Pat Alexander and Larry Brook
Booksfor Different Age Groups
We don’t generally grade books for adults by age. But in children’s books the age group really
matters. Writing for a 5-year-old is not the same as writing for a 12-year-
old. Children’s
experience and understanding grow and develop all the time.Everything is changing:
their vocabulary: the words they know
the ideas they can grasp
the level of complexity they can cope with
their interests and preoccupations
their feelings and emotions
their experience of life
their likes and dis
likes, the things that amuse and entertain themA writer needs to know this, to study the particular age group he or she has chosen. Beprepared to eavesdrop!
How do they speak?
What topics concern them most?
How do they look at the world? (It
won’t be the way you view it.)
 Many books have been written about child development. Dip into one of them. Many studieshave been made of vocabulary
the words (and concepts) it is best to use for different agegroups. Take note of these things if you want your readers to understand and enjoy what you
are writing. They won’t read what is way beyond their grasp, but you don’t have to stick to
word lists with a strictly limited vocabulary. A little bit of stretching can be good.
Media Associates International (MAI)www.littworld.org 
A word from Beatrix Potter
 This is how Beatrix Potter begins her
Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies
It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is
s not a word little children know, but they oftenlove big words and this one has a lovely sound. The next sentence actually clues us in to themeaning:
I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuce; but then I am not a rabbit!
She repeatsthe big word in the sentence that follows. And pictured on the opposite page are four littlerabbits, all fast asleep in a rabbit patch.We can divide children and youth roughly into four age groups: preschool, first years at school,older children who are confident readers, and young adult readers who are 12 and up. Each willneed a different approach.
Preschool (0-5 years) 
These are years of huge development, from the total dependence of the new baby to walking,talking, and being ready for school. 
“From a 5
-year-old to a 50-year-old is only a step, but from a newborn infant to a 5-year-old is a
terrifying distance.”
Leo Tolstoy 
Ordinary things are new, exciting, magical for little children. Children this young can’t read.
They will be read
to by adults. They don’t have a long attention span. The books the youngest
ones enjoy will have only a few words on each page and many pictures. They are learning toturn pages and how a book works. They are learning words and love the sounds. I began ar
etelling of the Noah story for this age group like this: “
Bang! Bang! Bang! went the hammer.
Noah was building a boat.” I let them hear the animals as they went aboard: “ ‘Quack! Quack!’said the ducks. ‘Moo! Moo!’ said the cows.”
 If you are writing for young children, the rhythm of the words is very important: the story mustread well aloud; sentences must be short and rhythmic. They like rhyme and repetition. In my
retelling of the escape from Egypt, for example, I used the words “The king said no” as a
 constant refrain. 
In Western culture, this is the age of the “nursery rhyme.” They love humor. Books intended for
them will have only 16, 24, or 32 pages. They will be very clear and simple (definitely no sub-plots, deep ideas, or complex characters!), and children will want to hear them again and again.Those who write for young children should never bore or shock or make readers unhappy bytheir writing. Give them something of value, and write plainly. Books for the preschool age group include: 
Board books.
These may picture objects or animals or parents and siblings, making onesimple point about caring, sharing, thanking, loving. They may then move into such areas asfriends, colors, numbers, and the alphabet. Rhyme and rhythm make the text more fun. A
Media Associates International (MAI)www.littworld.org 
surprise when you turn the page is fun too. Everything should be “concrete”
-no abstractconcepts. But we are never too young to learn about the God who made and loves us.
Simple stories.
When children can talk in sentences, they will begin to enjoy having short,simple stories read to them. Once they have learned to turn pages without tearing them,little books they can hold in their hands are good. This is the age for bedtime prayers andvery first and simplest Bible stories: the world God made, or Noah (chosen for the animals!).
Early learning.
Little children are full of curiosity and questions
—especially “why?” Theywill enjoy fun books which pick up on “wondering about” the world around them, other
people, themselves, feelings (happy or sa
d). It’s a good time to tell them how special they
are. Many Bible stories can be told, bringing out a theme to which they can relate. Forexample: the Noah story will focus on rescue, not judgment (although they will know aboutnaughtiness and correction!); the Joseph story will bring out his showing off and the jealousyof his brothers. Sound and rhythm and repetition make stories enjoyable and memorable.
Simple picture storybooks.
There is a special section on these later. They include fairytales, folktales and fables, stories from the Bible, stories relating to Christmas and Easter.
First years at school (5-8): Learning to read
Children in this age group need a lot of encouragement. Learning to read is slow and hard. Itcan take a long time to turn a page that has a lot of text. They may well give up! So
not toomuch text, mostly using words they already know and can recognize; set in large type, withgood space between words and lines; not too many words in each line; not too many lines oneach page. A good ratio of pictures to text is a big help. These books will have 24, 32, or 48pages (up to 64 pages for stories).
Books for this age group largely overlap with the ones we have mentioned already. It’s the
content and concepts that are different
reflecting their wider experience and range of understanding. 
Picture storybooks.
5-8 is the prime age for the picture story. Again, Christmas and Easter
stories, folktales, and fables that will enrich a child’s imagination and understanding are all
good subject areas.
Activity books, coloring books.
Children this age love making things, being busy, andhaving things to do
especially when bad weather keeps them indoors. And parents are gladto have them happily occupied! The Christian author will want to choose a theme which givessome real point to the activities: Christmas and Ea
ster, exploring the wonder of God’s
creation, a caring and sharing theme, and so on.

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