It should first be mentioned that in the publishing world, by definition, children’s literature does not solely consist of picture books. Children’s literature contains all of the books which are targeted at people younger than eighteen. So you would categorize picture books for tiny children, chapter books for middle ages, and young adult novels all in the same section.
The Young Adult Genre
But when going to a bookstore, you will often find young adult and children’s books to be in separate cases. The world is ever-shifting and young adult books have become a large genre unto itself. Sometimes you will even find it sub-categorized into fiction and nonfiction sections.
Normally the world of children’s literature does not contain any genre-specific barriers. Children are seen to be more accepting and may enjoy a book that is filled with science, history, and fantasy all in one. I’ve heard that this is sometimes why authors will write children’s literature in the first place. They want to genre-bust and write an all-encompassing story. There is also less stress since you don’t have to worry about genre cliches and expectations.
Targeting an Age
You do have to worry about writing for your age group, however. Younger children enjoy more external books full of action while young adults enjoy more internal books that describe thoughts and feelings. In general, children want more visuals, action, and imaginative scenes. Vocabulary is simpler, but stories can still be deep. Love isn’t as important and stories need to be shorter. And the mood is more acceptable if given a lighter tone. This is more true for the littlest ones, while young adults are in that transitioning stage and find they do like a bit of romance.
It is also a good idea to keep parents and guardians in mind. Young adults are beginning to find books for themselves, but children are given their books from others. And when parents go looking for wholesome materials for their kids, that restricts what kind of content you can include. There is a little more wriggle room for young adults, but their guardians will still influence them.
This is where you get to write in your cool dumb ideas and may be surprised with how popular they become. Or not. Kids can be surprisingly opinionated and will decide whether they like or dislike the book on something obscure to you but important to them. Don’t take their criticism to heart. Children come in vastly different shapes and sizes, even more so than adults who have been taught to fit into society over time.
How to Write It
When coming up with a story, should you let your target audience influence your words? Yes and no. You write for yourself first and foremost. You will discover which genres are closer to describing your works later. And after having a publisher or your business-minded self decide on an age group and genre, you will then edit it for the target audience. Sometimes if you try to target an audience as you write, you will discover later that it is really meant for someone else. Just put the story first and everything will fall into place.
Once you have a target audience within children’s literature, don’t stress too much on dumbing things down. Kids aren’t stupid, in fact, many are quite intelligent. They may not have as large a vocabulary or find complicated subterfuge interesting, but they get big things. Use one viewpoint and limit the number of important characters.
Most importantly, when writing stories for little ones, listen to your inner child. Remember how you saw the world and which details you noticed. Add in those crazy ideas which fascinated you. Talk to other kids in safe environments and listen to their words. When you add in your own characters, kids should sound like kids and adults like adults. People notice when you don’t.
Have fun with your words and explore everything. Don’t be afraid to try something new and be flexible. You may be surprised at the wisdom of youth.
Photo by Ben Wicks