“But will this establish you as a serious writer?” a well-meaning friend of a colleague asked her when she confessed that she was working on a children’s book for her debut as a writer. And this is really the standard assumption about children’s literature. Very often, it is dismissed as simple, non-serious, and easy to write. But anyone who takes out time to read children’s literature – and many adults do so simply because it is gratifying in a literary sense and fun to read at any age – would know that there is much more to this art and it absolutely deserves to be respected a lot more. It isn’t only about fairy tales and lessons in morality. It is much, much more.
To begin with, writers of children’s books carry huge responsibilities on their shoulders. Their writings introduce children to the world of books and God forbid if it is uninteresting, it may put the little ones off reading forever. And children are smart, they expect a lot from the books they read. One 8-year-old girl I sent one of my stories for review got back to me with comments like “the story is interesting and kept me engaged”. They can sense dilemmas, conflicts, and struggles the characters of the stories deal with and are smart enough to see through any loopholes the writer may have inadvertently overlooked. Whatever you do, you can never take these young readers lightly. And you also have to be careful of the content you are presenting to the kids. Smart though they are, they are still too young for some topics. Moreover, something that is suitable for a 6 year old may be too childish for a 8 year old, and a young adult or a teenager may look at the literature meant for younger children with disdain. So a writer who takes up writing for children needs to be sure which age-group he or she is writing for.
But one also has to be vary of dumbing down the story too much. Children are more perceptive than we give them credit for, and a simplistic, didactic book may not make the cut with them. Mortality and grief are as real to them as to us, and tougher. Occasionally an accomplished children’s writer comes along and deals with these subjects with such finesse that readers are left in awe. One such children’s writer is David Almond. He has written several books that deal with complicated issues such as bereavement, loneliness, grief, abandonment, and isolation, and all in children’s books. His book My Name is Mina is one such intriguing story. Click here to read my review of this book.
We often forget our childhood concerns and issues as we grow up. More often than not we do not remember the little things that gave us joy. So the challenge lies in making the world you create for your young readers as realistic as possible. You have to put yourself in their shoes and experience the world as they experience it, to be able to make your readers relate to your writing. Your protagonist needs to be of the same age group as the reader for your reader to be interested in his or her journey. Writings of Paro Anand demonstrate this beautifully – her characters, their journeys, challenges, and victories are all very real to her intended readers. But then Anand writes well for both children and adults – a feat not too many can boast of.
Children can be brutally honest and they will never say anything just to make you feel good. So if a writer has good fan following amongst children, there can be no better testimony to his or her skills. But a children’s writer should also be ready for honest, straight-from-heart criticism. Stay prepared for the dreaded “I don’t like it”, because children don’t mince words.
And you thought writing for children is child’s play, didn’t you?
A firm believer in the power of books, Vibha is convinced that while science and technology are the body of a society, art and literature are its soul. She holds a Master in Creative Writing from Newcastle University, UK, and hopes to make good use of it for the cause that she holds close to her heart – making creative writing mentorship accessible to everyone who wishes to write. Vibha loves spending time with artists and writers, and when she is not doing that she can be found hiding in a corner, reading, writing, editing, or building castles in the air. A writer, poet, reviewer, editor, and creative writing tutor, Vibha is the founder of Literature Studio.