There are two major criteria for successful children’s writing: understanding children and developing good writing skills.
You should read a wide selection of popular children's books and magazines to get a feel for what today's children want to read. You might be surprised to see how children's writing has changed since the days when Biggles, Nancy Drew and the Famous Five were at their peak!
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Writing for Specific Age Groups
Besides looking at the types of work that can be published, we also have to consider what children, or more usually their parents, will buy. Purchase preferences will depend to a large degree on a child’s age. Even one year can make a big difference with very young children. For example, 4-5 year olds would not ordinarily read books aimed at 6-7 year olds. As a writer of children's books it is better to aim your writing at a particular age group rather than to try and please all age groups.
A younger child may be more attracted to picture books, short stories or rhyming stories which don’t contain too many words. They may also prefer a paper book that an adult can read to them whilst showing them the pictures. This can, of course, also be done in an e-book format where the story and pictures are shown to the child on an e-book device, computer or tablet - but whilst some of these options are more portable than others, it still remains far easier and safer for a young child to handle a book. When writing for children you must decide whether you are writing something that a child can read unassisted for themselves, or whether it is largely intended to be an interactive book which an adult reads to the child.
At the simplest level, board books are targeted at infants. These are sometimes called baby books or toddler books. They usually depict simple pictures sometimes with just one word indicating a particular item, and sometimes they have no text. Early picture books are aimed at the under fives age group. At the older age in this range the books may have stories told in simple rhymes. Sometimes they are fairy tales. A typical word count would be no more than 500 words. Generally, those books which contain a greater number of illustrations are aimed at a younger readership, and the amount of illustrations drops as the target audience age increases, so that storey books written for older children have no illustrations.
Standard picture storey books aimed at 4-8 year olds are very often of the same size - 32 pages. Although they used to be mostly published as hardback editions, these days many are first published as paperbacks due to prohibitive costs associated with full colour printing. Also, the typical page count has often been reduced to 24 pages. A typical word count is nearer the 1,000 word mark. Whilst these books are small in terms of written content, they can be very difficult to write. Many writers set out believing that writing children's books is easier than writing adult fiction because the themes and language are simple, but it can be very challenging to write well in such a concise style. More often than not, the final product is the result of many drafts.
Easy reader books are aimed at young children who are just starting to read by themselves. These books still often contain illustrations and lengths can range to over 2,000 words. The simpler ones aimed at 4-5 year olds may have just one sentence per page. Those aimed at the upper age range of 7-8 years will usually have several sentences to a few paragraphs on a page. There are also early chapter books aimed at a slightly older age range of around 6-9 years which are intended to serve as a transition from easy readers to chapter books. They still contain the odd illustrations and may have several pages in each chapter. Each book is typically about 30 pages long.
The next type is the chapter book proper which is aimed at the 7-10 year olds. A typical length is 60 pages and chapters are slightly longer, at 4-5 pages. From here, the next age group is the 8-12 year olds and book lengths increase to up to 150 pages. The plots become more complicated and successful books like Enid Blyton's 'Famous Five' or the 'Biggles' series by Captain W.E. Johns' can often be found with many different books containing new adventures using the same characters. This is because at this age children begin to identify with the characters and want to read more about them.
As children grow older, they are likely to read young adult fiction as well as a wider range of written work using a broader range of sources. They may look at paper comics, fictional books, non-fiction books, textbooks, and other sources. They are also likely to consult many of these online and in electronic formats.
The following ebooks written by our principal (John Mason) and staff, are excellent supplementary reading for anyone studying bookkeeping. Click on a title for more information about contents as well as purchasing details through the school's online bookstore.