- Make a greeting Card
- Make a funny t-shirt design
- Write the text for a children's book
However, all of these things are deceptively complicated.
I recently entered a contest sponsored by MeeGenius, a company that makes eBooks for kids 4-8. The books can read themselves to the children or they can read them themselves. My kids love the free books I've downloaded to my iPad.
You can read (and vote for...) my entry at the following link.
Let me know what you think of it!
So here are my tips on writing a great children's book:
- Go short or go home:
Children get about one additional minute of attention span a year. So, my four year old can have a four or five minute book read to him before he starts squirming. (My four year old does a better than that, but he's exceptionally bright!) The MeeGenius format limits you to (I think) 420 characters per page and twenty pages per book.
- Watch your language:
Use simple words, simple sentences and use sight words carefully. Have a new reader read it to you and see where they stumble over words.
- Watch your content:
I grew up reading stories about lying little boys getting eaten by wolves, little pigs roasting big bad wolves in their kettle, and witches blinding princes unwise enough to enter a tower via braid. Children's books take a much softer approach now. MeeGenius specifically changed the stories I referenced above to make them a little more palatable for today's parents and children.
- Watch your names:
Give your characters simple names and use them often. Children may get confused by "he said" / "she said" and wonder who is talking.
- Watch your tense:
Use sentences with Active Voice, not Passive. Active sentences are shorter, easier to read and understand.
- Bring your "A" poetry game:
If you can do great poetry, make your book rhyme. I don't do this very well, so I didn't have my book rhyme.
- Have a message, but be subtle.
All writing should have a message of some kind. People who don't have much to say don't usually write books. But, don't you hate the books that say, "Then Molly learned a valuable lesson about..." or "Never again did Molly [insert moral here]"?
Have a message for your reader, but let them figure it out. Admittedly, in the description of "Wet Paint!" I say, "...Molly learns an important lesson about reading". Once you get into the text that will be read to the child, the book never says, "If you don't learn to read you'll miss important messages!", but I think that it's fairly obvious.
- Be Funny!
This can be hard, but children have a lot of patience for silliness and slapstick humor. Remember to build up the suspense for the humor. One of the secrets to the humor in the Far Side cartoons was figuring out what would happen next. Molly eventually sits on the bench with the "Wet Paint!" sign, but it takes several pages before that happens
- Have Pictures!
They really are worth a thousand words! Sadly, this is another thing that eludes me. But children would rather have poorly drawn pictures than no pictures at all. If, like me, you are completely hopeless with a sketchpad, Amazon's CreateSpace has an illustration service that may be able to help you. (Better bring your checkbook...)
Those are the valuable lessons I've learned from Wet Paint!
If I had it to do over again, I would probably tone down the comments to the illustrator for the purposes of the contest. (Yes, that is what my wife suggested that I do, don't ask me why I didn't.) I would also have the mother chasing her hat in the background of all the pictures.