Why Write for Children?

Tib Portrait copy

Because children’s picture books are so short. It can’t be that difficult.

A hundred years ago, when I taught fourth grade, I thought that if I had my students write and create little books, they would be better writers and readers. We now know that’s true, but then it was a new concept.

They were reluctant. It seemed the only way to get them started was to model the craft. I wrote along with them. I produced some ridiculous stories. But the kids loved doing it and they liked laughing with (or at) their teacher.

Two years ago I found one of my originals: ballpoint pen text and crayon drawings on faded white paper. I thought it would be easy to turn it into a children’s book. My first mistake. Just because they’re short doesn’t mean they’re easy.

At the conference two years ago I learned what constituted a picture book. The “story” wasn’t a story.

After months of revisions and deleted drafts (the equivalent of wadded up paper in the trash) I came up with a story. Not a great one, but one I thought might appeal to my then three-year-old granddaughter and other children.

I scanned the pictures and Photoshopped their parts. I’m a digital scrapbooker, so I used that skill for the backgrounds. Voila. Another few and I had illustrations. When I put them together with the text, the story didn’t work, so there ensued another few months of tweaking.

The result was Hubert Little’s Great Adventure. I’m taking it to Book ‘Em NC  this month, a fund raiser for their literacy campaign. I hope I sell some and can make a contribution.

I’m in the final stages of production of my next children’s book. Easy? It took the better part of a year to get this far.

Time on task? Two years total. Who knew 750 words would be so difficult?

Hubert Little was for fun. But now I’m hooked. I discovered why I really want to write for children: they love stories. They don’t look for anything beyond the story.

Isaac Bashevis Singer says there are five hundred reasons to write for children, but I think the ten he mentioned are spot on:

“Why I Write for Children,”
by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Number 1. Children read books, not reviews. They don’t give a hoot about the critics.
Number 2. Children don’t read to find their identity.
Number 3. They don’t read to free themselves of guilt, to quench their thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.
Number 4. They have no use for psychology.
Number 5. They detest sociology.
Number 6. They don’t try to understand Kafka or Finnegan’s Wake.
Number 7. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.
Number 8. They love interesting stories, not commentaries, guides, or footnotes.
Number 9. When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.
Number 10. They don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions. *

I know children don’t buy books. Parents do. But I don’t write for parents. I write for kids. I want them to get lost in the world of the story. I want them to love reading – any sort of reading. I want them to read newspapers, magazines, novels, picture books, graphic novels, comics, cereal boxes – anything that will pull them into another world, even if it’s Snap, Crackle, Pop.

The next time you’re at the library, if you haven’t read a picture book lately, go to the children’s section, grab a few, sit down and read. Try not to look beyond the story. Just enjoy. If anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them you’re a writer doing research. They’ll think you’re either serious or batty, and in either case it’ll be an adventure.

Who wants to write a picture book?

* This statement, originally prepared by Mr. Singer for the occasion of his acceptance of the National Book Award in 1970 for A Day of Pleasure:Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw, was read to the assembled guests of the Nobel Prize banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm on December 10, 1978. Reprinted in Nobel Lecture, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1978.


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