“All grown-ups were once children…but only a few of them remember this.”
–The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Are you in the right place? Well, you have to find out for yourself, but I can help with a few questions to help you decide:
- Have you ever thought of writing Children’s books but couldn’t figure out how to go about doing this?
- Are you already a writer and just looking to switch to writing for children or young adults?
- Have you ever tried writing for children or young adults but made a mess of the whole thing?
If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of those questions, then you are in luck. You’ve stumbled upon an editor’s extensive guide to writing for younger minds, and I will, in eight articles, guide you to writing a great book.
Here is a fact: Anyone can write stories ⎼⎼ many people do ⎼⎼ but writing great stories is the goal and not just writing.
To write great stories for children or young adults, there are two things you must first do:
- Get familiar with the classifications of books for this category of readers, and
- Choose an audience.
Once you’ve done both of these, you have taken your first major step because these choices will help you decide:
- Who your story is for,
- What your story can be about,
- Who the main character(s) in your story will be,
- How you should write your story,
- The number of words your story should have (well, a range),
- If your story will be supported by illustrations or not, etc.
Children’s and YA Books can be fiction or non-fiction. They can also be mystery/thriller, adventure, horror etc., but generally, they are divided into the following categories:
Board Books (0 to 3 years old)
Board books are also picture books; however, they are written for babies and toddlers. They contain a lot of colourful illustrations with very few words. The materials used for colour books are usually hard cards (boards). This can prevent them from tearing easily or becoming soggy from the baby or toddler’s saliva. They are commonly between 12 to 16 pages long and have a word count of 200 to 450 words.
- It’s Ramadan, Curious George by H.A. Rey & Hena Khan
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Fishes by Brian P. Cleary
- Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
- Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan & Saffa Khan
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Picture Books (2 to 8 years old)
Picture books are written for children between the ages of 2 and 8. They can be in the form of soft books or have hardcovers. They usually have between 200 to 3,000 words, and illustrations support the stories in them in a way that the stories are incomplete without them. E.g. The words can narrate the story, and the illustrations will show the reader what the characters look like.
Picture books teach life lessons related to family, good manners and morals, empathy, forgiveness, social connections, etc. They are meant to be read out loud, so you’d want to make sure the words flow smoothly, check your rhyming, repetitions etc., by reading out loud during the writing stage. They have to be funny and exciting at the same time, so children easily read and learn from them.
- Mayowa and The Masquerade by Lola Shoneyin
- Who Took My Banana by Sally Huss
- Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Farouqi
- Let It Go by Na’ima Robert and Mufti Menk
- We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen
Chapter Books (6 to 9 Years old)
Chapter books take picture books a step further. They are written for slightly older children, so they have a higher word count of about 4,000 to 15,000 words. They are usually written in chapters, using longer words and more complex language. They explore themes found in picture books more in-depth. Chapter books typically do not have full, coloured illustrations and can ⎼⎼ like picture books ⎼⎼ be written in series.
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingall Wilder
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf
Middle-grade books are written for children between the ages of 8 and 12. Because children within this age bracket have advanced reading skills, middle-grade books can have a word count of 20,000 to 50,000 words. The stories are based on more advanced themes like sibling rivalry, fitting in school or amongst friends, dealing with children of the opposite sex etc.
These books rarely have illustrations, and if they do, they are usually very few. Example include:
- Boom Boom by Jude Idada
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
- Mirror on the Wall by Jesutofunmi Fekoya
- Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
- Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secret by J.K. Rowlings
Young Adult Books
Young adult books are for teenagers and young adults between the ages of 12 and 18. Books written for them can be divided into two different age groups: 12 to 15 and 15 to 18 years. They usually have a word count of 40,000 to 80,000 words, and their plotlines centre around more emotionally and intellectually challenging themes that children within the age range would find relatable. They include choosing a career path, leaving home, navigating romantic relationships and friendships etc.
Books for young adults are usually read by adults, and there is another division of books that sometimes fall under this category. This sub-division is known as New Adults ( for audiences between 18 to 25 years).
Examples of Young Adult books are:
- Muslim Girl by Umm Zakiyyah
- Odufa by Othuke Ominiabohs
- Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- You Should See Me in My Crown by Leah Johnson
- She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima Roberts
Choosing Your Audience
Choosing your audience is a choice you are going to make to understand the way forward. Some people write different books before they finally find the types that seem like a perfect fit. However, my advice is that you read as many Children’s and Young Adults books as you can.
If you have a storyline in mind, think about who the main character is, how old they are, what themes your story addresses, how long you think your writing will be, and if you feel the story should be accompanied by illustrations or not. Then compare your answers with the characteristics of each category of children’s books and try to fit your story into one of the categories. Don’t worry if your story doesn’t seem to fit into any children’s books category yet. You’ll get it right soon!
Lastly, I want you to explore William Goldman’s Seven (7) Questions for Writers from his book, ‘Adventures in Screen Trade’.
Think of a story you’d like to write. If you don’t have one yet, think of a story you enjoyed reading; this might not be a children’s book, but it will serve the purpose.
Ask yourself the following questions and what the answers to them will mean for the story you have in mind:
- What is the story about?
- What is the story really about?
- What about time?
- Who tells the story?
- Where does the story take place?
- What about the characters?
- What must we cling to?
Does all of these seem like a whole lot? Don’t worry. I’ll be helping you answer these questions in my next article and then showing you how to use loglines to determine if your story is really a story.
Until then, don’t forget to read a lot of children’s and young adult books (you can refer back to the examples above), take note of the category(s) that you enjoyed reading, and write a list of things you enjoyed or hated while reading them.
You can share this list with me and also ask questions in the comment section below, and I will be sure to respond!