Tag Archives: challenge

On Composition: Writing for Children

13 Jun

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When E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s WebStuart Little, and a host of books for adults, was asked if he had a hard time shifting between writing for adults and writing for children, he said,

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”

I fully agree. I’m partial to this method as an author of educational fiction. That’s what I like to call my genre, anyway. It’s made up stories with real-life academics. My goal is to sneak some language, some science, some activism, some human decency into an adventure that, to a child, is just fun.

Not every children’s author aims for the educational, but most children’s books come out of the printing press with a moral or a lesson anyway. Books teach children even when they don’t set out to dictate a fully realized lesson–academic or otherwise–because children soak up EVERYTHING.

It is because books create teachable moments that children’s authors, whether aiming to create a book worthy of lesson plans or not, write UP to children. Why not? What’s the purpose in a book that doesn’t challenge its reader in some way?

Don’t say enjoyment, because books that write up and challenge are enjoyable, too. Frankly, books that don’t stretch the mind get boring. Kids are constantly searching for more. More. More. More.

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So, when writing up to a child, are we missing our target audience? Are we mislabeling our age group? Is it bad that a middle-grade fiction book hangs at the upper end of the age range in difficultly while the story and characters are more enticing to the younger end? Is this bad marketing? Do we need to sell our books to the ages who already use the vocabulary it contains? Do we say, “Well, if that book is too easy, they should buy a book for an older child,” and continue on our way?

No to all of those! Because aging up in books in order to get the desired complexity often results in children reading age-inappropriate story-lines simply so they aren’t bored with its delivery. Writing up to children means delivering appropriate challenges.

And to that I say: why wouldn’t you want to teach that eight-year-old something new within an appropriate and amusing context? Make them ask their parents for a definition.  Make them open a dictionary! Make them revisit first grade methods of sounding it out. Make them say the word wrong a few times before someone hears them and corrects them.

How many times have you heard someone mispronounce a complex word? They didn’t say it wrong because they’re unintelligent. They said it oddly because they learned it from READING! Thank a book that challenged that person somewhere along the way!

So go ahead and put that tough word in your kid’s book. Challenge them academically (whether your book is academic or not) by trusting them with a sturdy vocabulary, honest delivery, and creative contexts. They will accept all of it.

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