Why write for children instead of adults?
(I am thinking about this question because on October 8 I’m going to speak at WRITE ON THE SOUND, a weekend writing conference in Edmonds, WA. Most of the conference is focused on writing for adults.)
More exactly: Why create picture books for children instead of write for adults?
Notice I had to rephrase my question. That’s because I need the pictures part – I love telling my stories with pictures as well as words. I love the dance of text and art; the possibilities and humor and resonance as these two ways of telling bring a story forward.
Most of all, I love the form: the 32-page structure. As surely as a sonnet or a villanelle is proscribed by demands of rhythm and rhyme, the 32-page structure shapes a picture book story’s telling. The page turns create a cadence, a pacing. And it all happens in less than, say, 700 words: a beginning that typically introduces a character and his or her dilemma, a middle full of rising tension as things get worse, then even worse, then worst of all before the end where the character figures a solution, hopefully one that is unexpected and yet expected, hopefully one that changes character and reader. The 32-page structure forces a writer to condense and clarify, to make every word earn its keep.
Plus it seems the stories I want to tell are geared to a child reader. I’ve had my nose in a book since I learned to read — and it amuses me to create stories that would have amused the child I was.
Then there’s the fact that some of my favorite times as a parent were spent reading picture books with our kids. Picture books are read and reread. Sometimes they become part of a family’s way of looking at the world. They matter. (The books illustrating this blogpost are picture books that are part of our family’s history.)
Plus I like what CS Lewis said about writing for children: “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.”
The more I understand about the craft of writing for children, the more satisfying it is to try to express my story ideas. After 26 years, the question for me is not why write for children instead of adults, but how to keep my work fresh and alive, and better tap into the original vision of each picture book project.
On October 8, I will share my enthusiasm for the art and the craft of picture books with the adult writers at WRITE ON THE SOUND. I wonder what stories they might create, were they to bend their considerable writing skills to this 32-page wonder?
Now it’s your turn: Why write for children instead of adults?
Note: WRITE ON THE SOUND is already sold out.
Great question, Laura. One of the reasons I write for children is kids stories are some of the most fun and interesting stories to write with everything from talking animals to nonsense rhymes to magic to grand stakes of good and evil to play with. You have every genre at your fingertips to work with–real life drama, history, sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, humor. And you are telling it to an audience that may remember it for the rest of their lives.
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In the back of my mind (not in the front where it would be intimidating and get in the way) I carry the thought that, as Bonnie said, when you write for children you have the potential to create a story that will get into somebody’s dna and be part of them for life. I know this is true because it happened to me. The work is just . . . important.
sure worked that way for me. I remember how important the LittleHouse books were to me when I was another little girl named Laura moving to a new place. It reached across time and locations and comforted me. It is gratifying to hear when my stories matter to children amd families.
Do remember, many adults enjoy picture books! When I cannot justify buying a picture book for a child, I buy for myself. My coffee group always asks to take it home to enjoy or share when I take a picture book to share!
Ms. Becker I have found your essays to be clear and easy to read since 71 years brings some memory loss and selective favorites that come from a 5 year read to me from a grandmother. Thanks, left a note in Face Book on why writing for children, and illustrating the books is important, or why I love your bear book, little two year child of a library patron loved the story also. Thanks, atk