Knowing Your Target Audience as a Children’s Book Author

By: Nathaniel McCabe

There are many variables that come into play when writing a children’s book. The term “children’s book” is not universal to all children. There are different age groups under the large umbrella of children’s literature. For instance, a ten year old is not going to get entertainment the same way that a four year old does. 

As a generic rule of thumb, children most often like to hear stories that have main characters that are either the same age as them or a little older in age. For example, a six year old is most commonly going to want to read stories about other children that are 6-9 years old. 

If you are looking to write a children’s book, understand that simply setting out to write a book for all children is not likely to work. There are very rare instances in which a children’s book works for children of all ages (perhaps Oh, The Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss). The main reason behind this is the fact that children grow cognitive skills at relatively rapid rates. 

The Different Age Groups of Children’s Literature

Think of children’s literature as an umbrella that covers a lot of ground, because children’s fiction is just as complex as adult fiction in the sense that there are so many variables. So when looking at the umbrella of children’s literature there are three main categories directly below, those are listed below. 

  • Preschoolers
  • Beginning Readers (Elementary Graders)
  • Independent Readers (Middle Graders)

Children in each of these three categories are going to need different elements in books in order to be engaged and entertained from the story. With that being said, take a look through this guide that gives an overview of each of the three groups under the umbrella of children’s literature. 

Preschoolers

A child will experience new discoveries at a step by step pace, this is very important to understand when writing a children’s book. With this in mind you can zone in on the exact age group that you are writing for. The preschool age group doesn’t have to be limited to those who are in preschool. I like to think of this age group as children who still need to have stories read to them, so about the ages of 2-5.

Think about what a preschooler should already know. Maybe they know a couple of generic facts about farm animals. All kids love going to the farm and seeing the animals so you could write a children’s book about farm animals for any age group, it is the next thing to include that is going to be important. 

Preschoolers should be provided with stories that are contingent to their immediate surroundings. For example, maybe there’s a pig in a backyard. That is capitalizing two things that a preschooler understands, a farm animal in a familiar setting. 

If you were to write about a pig going to a restaurant, a preschooler is not likely to fully comprehend the story because while a preschooler can go to a restaurant, it is not necessarily a familiar setting. 

Beginning Readers

I like to think of this age group to be around the ages of 5-8. They are reading on their own, these can still be picture books as some children still enjoy the pictures, but at the same time many of them are going to want to take on chapter books at this age level (I believe that The Magic Treehouse series is a good fit for this age group).

 When looking at the life of a beginning reader, they are learning independence for the first time. This is when they start getting picked up by the bus in the morning and spending a majority of their day in school and away from their parents, who have likely warned them about the many dangers that are out there. 

Kids of this age like to read about things that stimulate their curiosity. It is important that you make your plot easy to follow because adding too many elements can get these readers confused. They are just learning the ropes of independent reading. 

These children want stories that are going to be exciting but with a clear plot that shows specific conflict. 

In these stories, you may decide to have animals as your characters, which is a great idea. The thing to keep in mind is that these readers have, for the most part, made their way past being interested in problems that are exclusive to animals. 

With this being said, it is likely going to have a greater impact if you personify animals in these stories by giving them problems that the beginning readers can relate to. 

Independent Readers

Independent readers are on the brink of adolescence, so they are not really looking for a story about a turtle that learns about manners. These readers have grown past that phase and are now looking for stories that expand into peer situations. 

It is not a good idea to get explicit in these stories, but these independent readers are at the age where they are gaining interest in dating. They probably have a lot of questions that they want answered.

They are growing into what seems like the most confusing period of their lives. Their bodies are constantly reminding them that they are growing up, yet they are still being told by everyone around them that they are children. 

Another interesting thing about this age group is the fact that everyone is at entirely different levels in their growth. This makes it so that a majority of them like the idea of reading about someone who is about their age that takes a dramatic situation head on and in turn proves their adulthood. 

Conclusion

Writing a children’s book can be tricky due to the fact that there are a wide range of variables. These three main target audiences of children’s literature tend to conform to different interests when it comes to looking for a story. 

For the most part, children like to read a story that has a protagonist that is either their age or a little older. As children grow into adolescents, they start to gain interest in stories that they can relate to. 

If you are writing a children’s book, it is very important that you determine your target audience as early as you can in the process as this will help both your structure as well as your plot in the long run. 

References:

Davis, Katie. How to Write a Children’s Book. Writer’s Institute Publications, 2016. 

Jones, Yvonne. How to Self-Publish a Children’s Book: Everything You Need to Know to Write, Illustrate, Publish and Market Your Paperback and Ebook. LHC Publishing, 2018.

Is Writing Children’s Literature Easier Than Writing Adult Literature?

By: Nathaniel McCabe

It appears to be believed that children’s literature is easier to write in comparison to adult literature. This belief seems to be linked back to a few different reasons… 

  • Children’s books are shorter
  • Children are believed to be an easier audience
  • Children’s books are fun and childish

These beliefs that commonly appear to be embedded in the world of literature are entirely wrong. However, there is an underlying reason for this misconception. The reason is the fact that this claim is often made without taking the quality of that children’s book into consideration. 

Writing a poorly constructed children’s book in an hour or two is probably very easy. Writing a high quality children’s book that grabs readers and keeps them engaged for the entire story is very difficult. There are a few things that make writing quality children’s literature harder than any other form of literature. 

Children’s Book Authors Are Almost Never Children Themselves

This is the most obvious reason why writing quality children’s literature can be very hard. Roald Dahl illustrated this in his interview where he basically claims that adults are the only ones that are skilled enough to write a book. The problem with that is the fact that adults have grown through many different experiences and have lost touch of what it feels like to be a child. 

He then goes on to say that if a seven year old were skilled enough to write a book, then they would be the best fit for the job of writing children’s literature. The truth of the matter is that children are not yet skilled enough to go off and write high caliber stories, leaving adults with the job of making children’s books

Children Are Hard To Keep Engaged

Think back to when you were a child and had a story read to you in class. There were probably stimulating posters on the walls or birds flying outside of the window. This often leads to children straying their attention away from the story. From an author standpoint, a children’s book that does not keep children engaged is not a high quality book. In order to keep children engaged, there have to be entertaining events happening in the story that will refrain them from staring out the window.  

It is much easier to engage adults in a story. If there is a bestselling fiction novel that has a good storyline, some adults might not be able to focus on anything else but that book. There could be a phone ringing over and over again but you just simply do not want to put that book down. This makes it much easier for an author to write for adults. 

Inability To Use Cultural Modifiers

This idea was brought to attention by Mo Willems, arguably the best children’s book writer of this generation. He made the claim in an interview that as adults with many experiences, we have the inability to utilize cultural modifiers in our writing. This can be something like a reference to a well known movie or a common adult experience like running into that person you don’t want to talk to at the store. 

Instead of utilizing these cultural modifiers, Mo Willems says that authors have to stick to core fundamental philosophical thoughts. This is to say that the thoughts have to be very basic and simplified while at the same time being philosophical and engaging. This makes it much harder for adults to write quality children’s literature simply because of the fact that we have experienced too much. We have to block out all of our advanced experiences and think back to the mindset of a child. 

Final Thoughts

Children’s literature has the reputation in the publishing world of being easy and not worthy of prestige. However, some of the best children’s book authors claim this idea to be entirely false.

The main difference is that writing a poorly constructed full length novel isn’t a piece of cake. It requires hard work and persistence, even if it is poorly constructed. On the other hand, a poorly constructed piece of children’s literature is fairly easy to write and can be done in an hour or so. 

This is where the misconception has been formulated, because the quality of the book is not specifically brought to consideration. Poor children’s literature is easy to write but for those who aspire to create great children’s stories that engage children and win awards, this is going to be very far from easy.

The Importance of Children’s Literature

By: Nathaniel McCabe

Children have always loved the idea of stories being read to them, but children’s literature does much more than just put children to sleep. Great children’s stories are stories that stick with children as they grow into adulthood. The lessons that children learn through stories has been proven to shape who they become in the future. 

A common misconception that is made in regards to children’s literature is that a lesson has to be the forefront of the plot. It is always good to learn a lesson but there is a better way to do so. Great children’s literature does not tell children everything that they need to know, this provokes individual thinking. This is to essentially say that stories should lay out all of the pieces for children to then piece together themselves and take a lesson from it. 

There are many reasons why children’s literature is important, there is an entire book on the importance of children’s literature and it is currently priced at $200, which shows that this has to be important. However, to establish the true importance, here is a basic overview of the importance of children’s literature. 

Develops Cognitive Skills 

Seeing the plot of a story play out gives children the notion of viewing life experiences which will benefit them when they end up in similar instances. This lines up with the idea that an adult can learn something from reading fiction novels, it is the same concept just on a smaller scale. The way that the conflict and resolution is portrayed gives a lesson which can then be translated over into everyday life. 

It has been proven that children who are attentive and engaged in story time as children grow to become successful figures in this world. The love of story time often turns into a love of reading that will continue on throughout all of life, this almost always leads to achieving extraordinary cognitive skills. Dr. Seuss touched on this in his famous quote where he says “The more that you read, the more things that you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

Exposes Important Values  

Similar to how life lessons are portrayed, important values are presented throughout many pieces of children’s literature. These values include, but are not limited to… 

  • Manners
  • Etiquette 
  • Family
  • Health & Hygiene

When a character of a story is shown washing his or her hands before eating, children pick up on that. Or when a character is shown showing gratitude to a loved one, children want to go home and reciprocate these actions of gratitude. 

As the importance of these values are shown to children, they absorb it and incorporate it into their lives. 

Builds Emotional Intelligence  

When a story is told aloud to twenty different children, there are twenty different takeaways. Each child will view the story differently in their head and when the story comes to a completion, each individual child will have their own different opinion

The beauty of this is that there is individual thinking being promoted. That is why there should not be one singular lesson at the forefront of a plot, stories like that make the individual thinking more limited. Successful children’s book author Mo Willems brings light to this idea when he said “always think of your audience, never think for your audience.” When an author makes an attempt at thinking for their audience, it runs the risk of taking away from the development of emotional intelligence. 

When children are free to hear the story for themselves and then put the blocks together to form an individual opinion, they become more involved in the story. That involvement is what builds emotional intelligence. 

Beyond The Story  

There are countless reasons why children’s literature is important, this is just a basic overview. Books that are read to children, or books that are read by children are vital pieces to their cognitive development. 

When children are free to make their own interpretation of a story, they are presented with the opportunity to build their emotional intelligence. 

For these reasons, quality children’s literature is always going to be important and quite frankly, should be taken more seriously in the publishing world as it is a key component in the development of children.