As we specialize in educational children’s literature, we know a thing or two about the way to craft a children’s book. We have encountered many authors that think just because it is filled bright colors and cute animals that it’s going to sell. That’s not quite true. While yes, children do love animals and bright colors, a lot of children’s books rely on these mechanics to grab their attention and start reading. This makes it hard to distinguish you’re book, even if the idea behind it is genuine. There’s also confusion regarding how long a children’s book should be. You can make it a short twenty pages and call it a day, yes? Well, no. Not really. There is a defined page number that you should be going for, that being around 40-pages. If you don’t know how to stretch out your story, there are ways we will cover in this blog to help teach you how to meet that page count, actively increase child engagement with your book, and possibly even boost potential sales. None of this would be possible without the basic tools of a children’s book, though. So, what goes into writing a children’s book?
Children’s Book Components –
- Plot (Setting, Characters, Descriptors, & Pictures)
It is worth noting that, unlike our previous blog about the components of a standard novel, the order these items are listed are not necessarily the order in which they need to be tackled. As setting is less important, you can start with your characters, and then build the world around them. We will cover this more in-depth per section, but for now, let’s begin with genre.
“What?” I hear you asking. “What do you mean choose the genre? Isn’t ‘children’s literature’ the genre?” Technically yes, children’s literature is a genre. Just like novels have hybridized genres, so do children’s books. You wouldn’t lump The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Dragons Love Tacos into the same genre. They have different characteristics, themes, character types, and thus, they also have different genres. The former is more educational, whereas the latter focuses more on the story and the entertainment factor. You need to decide when planning your children’s book what genre it could be described as. The same question from describing your novel apply here. If there’s aliens, it could be science fiction. If there are dragons or other mythical creatures, then the genre is fantasy, so on. Knowing the genre will help you present your book to the kids in a way they understand, because if the kids love the genre, their families will notice.
When writing a children’s book, the most important thing you need to ask yourself is simply, “What happens?” What is happening to this main character, or characters, over the course of the next 40-pages? How does it happen? This is not much different from constructing the plot of a novel, but it must happen at a much faster pace. There should be no scenes without cause in the book, whether it be introducing the characters, taking them to their next destination, or having the lesson finally show towards the end of the story. Constructing the plot of a children’s book however requires the understanding of other elements of writing.
- Setting – I mentioned above that setting is less important in a children’s book, but don’t think for a moment that it is not important at all. Where a children’s book takes place can enable or disable the way the child interacts with the book. If you want to write a story about a fish, you can write about a fish in several places, in a bowl, in the ocean, or even at an aquarium. If you want the fish to fly and live above the clouds, that’ll only work if the type of children’s book is fantastical. And when writing, the children need to know that. Any setting can be applicable to the story you want to tell and the lesson you wish to convey. Therefore, you must also make sure that the setting makes sense for the story. i.e. provide explanation. Make the children believe it is possible.
- Characters – Easily one of the most important aspects of a children’s book, the characters are the thing that every child reading it will remember. There are no right characters for a children’s book. Take our own Zaniac Books as an example. The main character, Jack, is in all the books. You always see Jack somewhere in the story, be it in the background or as the main character. The main character’s job is to convey the feelings and emotions of the tots reading the story. They can be curious, confident, shy, expressive, or adventurous. Typically, these characters will be the book namesake, so you want to make sure they act like kids do, or that they act how kids want. An easy way to judge this is to simply ask the children in your life, whether you have your own or if your friends have any. If they approve, you have some personable characters.
- Descriptors – This one has more to do with the vocabulary of a story. This one has more to do with the educational value of your children’s book. Of course, not every children’s book is intended to be educational. Certain stories, like Lon Po Po, are there to tell the same story from a different perspective, in this case Red Riding Hood. There is only a moral and it is not intended to teach vocabulary. Other stories do try and teach the young readers new words, like our own Geoffrey Wilhite’s Chlory the Green Pig Makes Sugar. Included are many terms used in tenth-grade biology classes, and thus the children’s book expands their knowledge as well as their vocabulary. One of the most common tricks to filling out that 40-page mark is to include a vocabulary sheet at the end of the book with all the new/long words the children found. While this is not required, and a children’s book can be easily written without them, it is never a bad idea to teach children new words.
- Pictures – Arguably the biggest selling point to any children’s book, there are so many ways to do pictures that it’s hard to condense them all into one passage. I will keep this section brief and as informative as possible. First, decide if you want full-page images or half-page. As their names suggests, a full-page image covers the whole page, and half-page images cover a portion. You can also have stretch-images which cover both pages in a section. You also need to make sure that the image is busy, meaning that there is a lot of action with a lot for the children to look at. Make sure the colors are bright, and that everyone’s actions matches the caption or line that accompanies the image. This also relates to the cover image. Make sure it features your main character or idea a way that is visually capturing but still flat enough to provoke interest in what unfolds within the pages. For more information regarding the formatting, layout, and composition of images within children’s book, do not hesitate to reach out to us at Happy Dolphin Press!
What do you want the child to learn by having read your book? Do you want them to understand the importance of forgiveness? Did you want them to understand the migration patterns of blue whales? People all too often lump theme and lesson into one category, when they are actually quite different. Since Happy Dolphin Press is a publisher of educational children’s books, our books often feature lessons rather than themes. A theme is that classic idea that is meant to stick with a reader at the end, like “Don’t be rude,” “Respect your parents,” etc. Lessons tend to be more education, such in the case of the books we’ve mentioned above. You need to decided whether your book has a theme, a lesson, or in some cases both. Once that is chosen, the way the plot, characters, setting, and everything else come into focus is much easier to understand. The flow of development for the story becomes much clearer once you know what you want to leave the children with, even if it’s something as simple as, “Go to bed on time for a better tomorrow!”
Last piece of crafting a children’s book is to make sure, after all the captions, the images, the plot, lessons, everything, that you stay around that 40-page mark. We’ve already mentioned some ways you can fill out this requirement, but I’d like to go over the engaging and sales boosting premises stated above. While using images, copyright pages, and vocabulary sheets are good ways to fill out the 40-pages if your book comes in under the mark, there are additional activities you can include in the back of, or throughout, the book. You can section pages in the middle or end for things like crossword puzzles, word searches, coloring sheets, and more. This gives the children an outlet to interact with the book after it has been read, and when they have completed the coloring page, the word search, or whatever you’ve included, it will likely go on the fridge where their parents will see it. If the parents see it, it’s probable that they recommend it to other parents as well, which could boost sales. At the same time, if there is more than one child in the family, the parents may buy multiple copies if both kids want to complete the word search, etc. Including these activities, not just to reach 40-pages, pushes the child past simply reading the story and engages them with the content. As such they are more likely to learn, and more likely to remember and share it with others. The same goes for the parents or relatives that purchased the book for them and will for others once they see how much they loved it.
We’ve given you the pointers you need, so now is the time to put them to action and get those kids reading. Give them a book they’ll never forget.