How to Write Children’s Books
Writing for children might sound easy—you’re presenting simple plots with simple vocabulary. However, writing children’s books is all about finding the right voice to connect to young readers in an easy way that feels authentic. That’s why it’s such a competitive niche within publishing—not everyone has the skills to engage with kids at their level without coming across as condescending.
If you’re unsure about these elements within your own children’s book, consider our manuscript critique service, which will assess if your work needs further development or if you’re ready to self-publish or pitch to an agent.
Age isn’t just a number
Children grow up fast, and their preferences and POVs change quickly, so it’s important to know what age group you’re targeting and how to connect with them through your main character. A book for seven-year-olds is going to be very different from a book for eleven-year-olds. Your main character’s age is just as important as your audience’s age, and you need to have a clear idea of what children of that age are like.
What is age-appropriate and what isn’t? What do they think about, worry about, and get excited about? How mature are they at that age? How do they express themselves? How do they want to be seen by other kids? What’s their attention span? How much do they understand about the world?
Consider all of these questions when shaping your narrative so your story doesn’t come off as too grown-up or too juvenile. As we learned from Goldielocks, the fit has to be just right. If you have your own kids, you can study them to answer these questions, but you should also expand your research beyond your own home, just in case your kids are more or less mature than their peers.
Write from a child’s POV
One of the easiest ways to lose a child’s interest is by writing from an adult’s perspective instead of a child’s point of view. Stories about childhood told through an adult’s lens can feel alienating for kids, who are eager to see themselves reflected in the characters they’re reading about, just as grown-up readers are. Also, since children don’t understand the world in the same way adults do, a story written from an adult’s POV may be confusing or boring.
Think back to your own childhood and how you saw the world, yourself, and other kids, and write from those memories rather than from where you are now. Even adults who spend a lot of time with kids—teachers, doctors, parents—might lose sight of how children view things. It’s essential to really put yourself in kids’ shoes so they can see themselves in your characters rather than see you. In particular, it can be easy to assume children know next to nothing, but older kids often want to be taken more seriously, so it’s important to give your characters enough agency.
Of course, you want there to be lessons in your children’s book, but they can’t be obvious. If your book comes off as too preachy, the kids aren’t going to connect with it; they already have to follow way too many rules, so they don’t want to be schooled when they’re reading for fun. The lessons in your book should be implicit, conveyed so effectively through the events in the story that you don’t need to spell them out.
To avoid coming off as patronizing, hide the lessons within your characters’ choices and actions rather than stating them through their words—let the kids figure it out themselves, let them come to their own conclusions and takeaways after they’ve connected with your characters. Basically, children don’t want to be told what to do—they want to be led by example. Not only will this approach keep them interested in your story, but it will also teach them the lessons more effectively since they’ll understand the why behind the idea.
Mind your language
You must be deeply considerate and aware of the language you use in children’s books—not just the words you choose, but the tone, slang, and emotionality of your prose and dialogue. You want to tread especially carefully with slang—don’t use anything you aren’t actually sure how to use, and keep in mind that certain expressions may date your book. As for the rest, it will all depend on your genre (nonfiction, fantasy, YA, picture books, adventure) and your demographics, so make sure you’re being true to your story and your characters without trying to be something you (and they) are not—kids will see right through someone who’s trying too hard. There’s nothing cringier than an adult trying to be “hip” with the kids.
Similar to grown-ups, kids read to escape, fantasize, and dream, so make your children’s book exciting and engaging. Don’t be afraid of surprises and whimsy, of exploring what you would have liked to explore as a kid. Connect with your inner child to ensure you’re writing a book kids want to read, not one that just tells them how to live.
If you’re confident that your voice and tone are on point, let us find relevant agents and publishers who work with children’s books. If you still need help with your story development, check out our manuscript critique and big-picture editing services.