Friday, 25 November 2011

Writing for Children by Anne

All children have to learn to read. Give them a good book by an accomplished writer and they will be hooked... Or so we like to believe.
I am in the process of a very extensive rewrite of my first novel aimed at young adults (and still enjoying it) but I have a very active mind and I’m telling myself so many new stories. So, I decided that I would start a new story too. This time I would focus on the pre-teens. I teach ten year olds so my target market is readily available for constructive criticism and, oh boy, are they critical. Some have decided to write the story for me. They have great ideas whilst others keep prodding me with ‘What if....?’  ‘but why?’ ‘...can’t you say...?’
I’m listening and trying to take on what they are saying whilst staying true to the story and maintaining the voices.
As part of my quest to listen to them, today I decided to conduct an experiment. The Scholastic Book Fair is in school for the week. There are 4 large bookshelf cases loaded with the latest books for 3-12 year olds. I opened up all the cases and told them to imagine that they could buy any book that they would like. Before I let them loose on the shelves, I asked them to be conscious about HOW they chose their book. What did they look at first? What were their criteria for choosing a book? I even role-played the process. I perused the shelves carefully, picking out book after book. I analysed the cover, read the blurb, opened each one up and read the opening lines finishing off my charade by flicking through some pages reading random excerpts.
 It was their turn. They raced, pushing unceremoniously past one another to grab the book that they had been eyeing whilst I had been doing my one-man-show. Although the instruction was to refrain from holding on to a book until the five minute choosing session had ended, they knew what they wanted. The Top Gear book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Titanic Diary and D-day were gripped by determined hands. Without letting go, they filled in their quiz sheets and started to read. The result surprised me. Very few children opened any of the books whilst choosing. They made up their minds quickly. Looking at the results it is clear that they looked at the cover and read the title. If it was a series they knew and loved, that was enough to convince them. If it wasn’t, the cover picture was more important than anything else.
‘I have all the series and I treasure them.’ Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Cabin Fever Jeff Kinney
‘Because this one shouted at me.’ Titanic Ellen Emerson White
‘I liked it because the puppy looked sad.’ Dog Lost by Ingrid Lee
My favourite : ‘This one was authorised by my favourite author.’ Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Cabin Fever Jeff Kinney  
So...spend as much time as you like crafting and re-crafting that crucial opening sentence. If you haven’t got the cover right, you won’t sell the book.

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