Today I’m joined by author Patricia Furstenburg who has written a really lovely post about the joy of writing for children. Her latest book is Puppy, 12 Months of Rhymes and Smiles and is available on Amazon: Puppy
The luxury of writing children’s books
Joanne, thank you for inviting me to “Portobello Book Blog”. It is a thrill and an honor to be here, with such a gracious host and among such accomplished authors.
I write children’s books. Like Sleeping Beauty (the comparison stops here), I woke up one morning writing a story about an elephant. Then about a dog, then about another dog, as dogs to live in packs, don’t they? And the stories kept pouring, fairy-tales, make-believe, poetry… you name it, for kids.
I look left and right, especially on Twitter. There are so many great authors there whose work I admire; the Indie community is abundant, generous, spirited. Where do I stand, among them?
Writing for children often means that you have to know how a child thinks, how they react in a certain situation. What is it that kids finds funny? My own children are too old for such experiments so I pay attention to the little ones I see in the mall. But believe me, following a parent to hear what his offspring thinks of the cabbage that rolled across the floor in the fresh products sector… is not very glamorous. And if that is not enough, along with writing on a level that is appealing to young children you have to write for the parent that will read the story as well. Actually the parent has to like the story in the first place since he will pay for it and he will be the one to “have to” read it again and again… and again and, hopefully, still find it enduring.
They say that if you want to write a historical novel you have to familiarize yourself with the era so much that you can walk its streets and live that life without standing out. The same goes with writing for children, one has to read children’s books and no, the ones you read to your own kids over ten years ago don’t count. The themes have changed; the approach is different; the expectations have increased. So, while my husband enjoys R.R Martin, I reach for a colourful, square book about a little mouse and his adventures. Is he going to make it alive? Will he learn a lesson that’s not too obvious – kids are so perceptive! I don’t know how Mary Poppins managed, but “just a spoonful of sugar” never helped “the medicine go down” in our home.
Having appealing characters is vital when writing for children and, even if you end up with only two pages of text (if writing an illustrated book), making sure your characters are lovable and realistic is paramount. One of my recent books is about a Cheetah and a Dog. We all know dogs, but cheetah? “The tiger has stripes like long thin pipes, but a leopard has lots of spots,” (says the childhood rhyme). Okay, I get it, but what about a cheetah? What makes her stand out? I know how fast a puppy can run, but a cheetah? And is she sleeping in a tree or on the ground? Do cheetah live in packs?
Next, do I need an anti-hero? Who should it be? How scary can you make him? (- my other voice pops in). I need to consider the age I write for. Never mind, the parents will be there to comfort the child (- she says). But if I scare them, they won’t want to read my book again, or the next one. A little bit of a fright never harmed anyone (- she grins, pushing from the corner of my mind). But I don’t want to scare little children! Just make up your mind! (- and she slams her fist onto the table).
So I have my lovable main characters, my scoundrel, the setting, the happenings and the climax. I have the lesson that needs to be learned (sugar coated, Mary Poppins “said!”) – now I must condensate everything in two pages, 500 -800 words, make it child-friendly and, at the same time, entertaining for grown-ups. And when done, read it about one hundred times and if I can still enjoy it, move further and do the illustrations. But that’s another story.
As for rewards? Money, fame or appreciation, what is more valuable? The joy to write is what matters right now. And seeing children smile when they open my books.
Social media and contact links
Author Website: http://alluringcreations.co.za/wp/
Huffington Post SA http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/author/patricia-furstenberg/