What not to do when writing children's books

This post has been graciously contributed by Maggie Pagratis, author of “Barnaby and his Brittle Bones” and “Yawny Bear”.
Several years ago I went on a children’s-book-making binge. Once I got the hang of it, I couldn’t stop. It was the thrill of creating that appealed to me and it became so addictive I could have popped out two books a day if illustrations didn’t take so long. The creative process provides a rush like no other.
Unfortunately, marketing does not have the same effect on me. Since that first rush, I have found that formatting books for others fulfils my need to create. I get to help authors create works of art and the authors get to do all the marketing.
During my time of children’s-book-creation addiction, I learned a few things:

  1. Forget the fancy English you learned in college
  2. Create your book illustrations in two-page spreads.
  3. Read your text out loud to avoid “bad” words which could ultimately lead you to get your book off the market quick! (Ephew the Nephew)
  4. Avoid ambiguous, overly poetic titles
  5. Never oversell an idea or stretch the truth
  6. Be fearless. Write something you want to shout from the rooftops, not something you are hesitant, embarrassed, or nervous about.

Lesson # 1:  Forget the Fancy English

Making kids feel like they know nothing rather than making them love books is a bad move.
I learned this lesson during Parent Career Week where parents were invited to discuss their profession with a class of kindergarteners. As a recently published children’s book author, I walked into my daughter’s kindergarten classroom, enthusiastically displaying my beloved shiny green, slim book: Long-legged Turtle from Arizona.
I was so proud to be sharing this moment with my five-year-old daughter and her classmates. I stood, smiled, and began reading Long-legged Turtle’s courageous utterances, which were rich and flowing off the page. My face was flushed. I was conducting a word lover’s symphony, swaying to the meter of each sentence. However, when I looked up and around the room, all I saw were blank, paralyzed little faces.
I first thought these five-year-olds were fascinated, but the more I looked, the more I realized they understood nothing of what I was reading. The more I realized they were confused, the more animated I became. I had to keep them. They were mine. One lost attention span and I was a goner, so too would be my daughter who’d have to see them not only the next day, but for the rest of the school year.
Thank God for the activity I had planned as part of my reading. It was my saving grace. There’s nothing like sinking your hands in to illustrate your own turtle. It turned out they loved Long-legged Turtle. I hugged and praised and encouraged them during this activity, succeeding here where my book had not. I had to infuse them with positivity and clarity. “Yes, you can understand a simple children’s book and yes, you must try having one read to you again sometime.”
Lesson learned.
About the Author:
Maggie Pagratis has published numerous children’s books and worked as an in-house writer, business interviewer and editor-in-chief of a Montreal magazine. Her writing appears on several websites and blogs. She now designs and formats print books and eBooks for independent publishers and authors. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and a Bachelor of Education. Maggie authored “Go Away Booboo! a children’s book translated into seven languages including English, Afrikaans, German, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish. For more information, visit her at www.custom-book-tique.com.

2 thoughts on “What not to do when writing children's books”

Join the Conversation