“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.
Simple as that.” ~ Stephen King
I don’t like the horror genre (it gives me nightmares), so I’m not a fan of Stephen King. But when he’s right, he’s right.
Romance writers read romance. Science fiction writers read sci-fi. Historical novelists read historical fiction. And children’s writers read children’s books.
You may have heard the illustration describing how Treasury agents are trained to detect counterfeit money. The illustration explains that Treasury agents study genuine money until they are familiar with the smallest details. They are taught to recognize characteristics such as the feel of the paper, color, background patterns, and watermarks. After in-depth study of the real thing, counterfeit money will be obvious.
What does counterfeit money have to do with writing for children?
Many writers who wouldn’t attempt to write for adults think writing for children is easy. After all, they reason, how difficult could it be for a college-educated adult to write a thirty-two-page book for a six-year-old?
Truth is, it’s extremely difficult. Even more so than writing for adults. Children’s writers must communicate their subject using age-appropriate vocabulary. They must write in a way that will hold the child’s interest, because children have short attention spans and fickle interests.
Writing in rhyme requires more than the ability to match similar-sounding vowels. It requires the ability to rhyme words without sacrificing the essence of what we wish to communicate and without forcing the rhyme.
The children’s author also needs to understand meter. Writing in rhythm is not just about counting syllables. We need to recognize the difference between various meter patterns, too.
Creating excellent children’s writing means refusing to take shortcuts. Children’s writers must hone their craft as much as those who write for adults. We start by reading the genre we wish to write, whether it’s board books, picture books, beginning reader books, or chapter books.
Writing for children may be difficult, but it has its rewards, too. You and I have the opportunity to change the way a child thinks and behaves. We can entertain and instruct. We can communicate joy and wonder. We can write a book that a child will someday read to his children. Through the power of the written word, we can create memories that will last a lifetime.
Read what you want to write. Then go write it.
So, what children’s books have influenced your writing?