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How I Write a Children’s Book – Part 7

I want talk a moment about verbiage. In the beginning I mentioned that the grade level of the words did not matter at the first draft time. Although this is true, for me, I wanted to let you know the process I use to check these words. The Children’s Writers Word Book is a fantastic resource to find words, and learn what grade level they fall into. It also has a thesaurus for similar words and what grade level they are. Here are two words that I think may need to be replaced.

Imagined

“Slappy closed his eyes, and imagined what it would be like to fly through the air.”
The word “Imagined” is considered a 2nd grade word. If I wanted to change it, I have the option of using a kindergarten level word like “pictured”(K), or a 1st grade word like “thought’. Here I’m going to disagree with the book. (What?) I believe that young children today know what “imagination” is. It’s used in SO MANY kids shows that it’s no longer bound to a 2nd grade reading level. So, no change here. (Side note: I could change it to dreamed, but I did not want to imply he was sleeping)

Retrieve

“If I could fly, I could retrieve other things that get stuck in trees, like footballs, hats, and kites …”
The word “retrieve” is a 6th grade level word. Ouch! That may be a bit out of reach for our readers. We could simplify it with “get”, “find” or replace it with “return”, also indicating a sense of helpfulness.

Writing a Picture Book

When writing a picture book it is important to remember your audience. The story should be between 500 and 1000 words. The story should not take longer than 15 to 20 minutes to read. Remember, our audience has a short attention span. By keeping the story short, time wise, you allow it to become a great bedtime story, and if necessary its possible to fulfill the “read it again” scenario.

Illustrations

The story is only part of the book. As adults, when we think of something we can add our vast range of experiences to the words. When you read the words, “The subway train came to a screeching halt at the platform.” chances are you pictured the platform, you even pictured people, and columns holding up the ceiling. You may have also pictued a dark tunnel at the other end of the platform, an aluminum train, possibly with graffiti, creating a metal on metal screech as it stopped.

You can picture all of this not because you may have experienced it, but because of movies, tv shows and other media that we’ve been exposed to. We paint the picture based on what we know. Ask an adult and a child to draw a picture of a house and you will get two vastly different images.

It is for this reason that illustration is imperative to your story. Bright, vibrant colors, along with characters that possess visibly noticeable emotions and personality. If what they see matches what they read or hear read to them, they will make the connection. For the child, that’s understanding … they get it … they will like it and feel a sense of accomplishment.

In the next part, we will dive into the tragedy that creates our hero.

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