Would you like to write a classic children’s book? One that will be read my millions of children? I think you would like to. However, I will admit, I can’t read your mind. So I am making assumptions. Maybe you don’t want your book made into movies, or read by children all over the world, or have the main character sold as a plush toy in stores.
But, I have discovered The One Secret, the missing ingredient that takes a story from good to great.
How To Write a Children’s Book
When my children were younger I told them bedtime stories every night. Stories of a brave, sword fighting rabbit who protected the fields of romaine lettuce for the King. I didn’t realize those stories contained the one secret of classic children’s books.
You may have already searched the internet for articles on writing for children. You may have bought ten million books on how to write for children. You have attended every webinar in your native language on writing for children, and you have read every single post on The Write Practice about writing.
You may know the who, what, where, when, and why of the story, but you are missing the most important aspect of writing a children’s book. The other who.
First, Answer This Question
Who is this story for?
Are you writing the story for a faceless crowd, or for a specific child?
Some of the most successful children’s stories started out as bedtime stories. Bedtime stories told to an author’s child. Bedtime stories told by the author to someone they loved.
The one secret to write a classic children’s book is: Love Your Reader.
That’s it? Yes, that’s it. Love your reader. Write a children’s story for someone you love.
Five Classic Children’s Books That Started Out As Bedtime Stories
Here are five classic children’s stories written by the author for someone they loved.
1. Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne. Christopher Robin, was a real boy, the son of A.A. Milne. Our beloved Winnie-the-Pooh began as bedtime stories for the successful author and playwrights son, Christopher Robin Milne.
The original bear was a birthday gift for Christopher’s first birthday. And the other characters were based on a stuffed tiger, donkey, kangaroo and pig that belonged to Christopher.
2. Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang was written for Ian Flemings ten-year old son Caspar. Yes, that’s right, the author who wrote James Bond adventure stories wrote a story about a flying car for his son.
3. Pippi Longstocking was written by Astrid Lindgren for her nine-year old daughter Karin, who was bedridden. Pippi, the protagonist in the story, who can lift a horse with one hand, is also nine. The daughter made up the character’s name, and her mother brought Pippi Longstocking to life, with love.
4. Thomas The Tank Engine by Wilbert Awdry started out as bedtime stories when his son Charlies was stuck in bed with the measles. The stories about trains who can talk were made into animated films my own children watched. Downstairs in boxes, are several Thomas the Tank engines. Little blue trains with personality.
5. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald started out as bedtime stories for her daughters. I often wondered if my children had enough dirt on their arms to grow radishes like the children in Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s neighbourhood. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle helped me raise my own children.
Five Reasons Bedtime Stories Are So Important
Why are bedtime stories so important for writers to tell their children? Here are five reasons:
- You are sitting with your child, someone you love. Your mind is free to be fantastical, you are not tied to a typewriter, and you can create with wild abandon, with freedom. You are creating to entertain. (Fantasical is not a word. But I hope Joe Bunting, the editor, keeps the word in because children’s stories don’t follow rules. Hi Joe!)(Joe here: Hi Pamela.)
- While telling your child a story, you are not worried about word count or if you have the recommended thirty-two pages for a picture book, with proper page breaks. You don’t care what anyone else thinks. This story is for your child. A story in a world where cars can fly, bears have little brains, trains can talk, little girls can lift horses, and houses can be built upside down.
- Telling a child a story orally means you can create out loud. Where your thoughts come to you with pictures rather than with words on a computer screen or on a piece of paper.
- You can adapt the story as you tell it, embellish details, and create suspense every time you tell the story. Over and over again. A child is very honest and they will tell you if your story is boring. They will also tell you if forget a part of the story.
- And the most important aspect—the one secret to write a classic children’s story—the story you are telling is for a specific person. You are telling a story to someone you love.
What if you don’t have a child to tell a bedtime story to?
If you don’t have a child to tell bedtime stories to, tell the story to yourself as a child. Pretend you are nine years old again, and create for the child inside of you. (You may not have been nine in over seventy-four years, and that is okay. Just try. We are made up of all of our birthdays.)
You might volunteer to be a story-teller at your local library or pre-school. You will get immediate feedback about your story and you will brighten a child’s day with your amazing storytelling abilities.
Another option it to tell bedtime stories to your cat. If you don’t have a cat, tell bedtime stories to your teddy bear.
And, if you don’t have a teddy bear, go and buy one. Seriously. I will wait for you. I read comments weeks after my posts publish. Post a picture of you with your teddy bear and your fifteen minutes of practice.
Every writer needs a teddy bear as much as they need a dictionary or a good chair to sit in or a good idea.
How about you? Do you love your reader(s)? Please tell me in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.
For today’s practice, before you write your story, I want you to make up your story by telling it out loud first. Tell the story to a child, to your cat, to your best friend’s child, or to a teddy bear. Then—write down your story. Write for fifteen minutes.
Write your story with a specific reader in mind. Love your reader.
Then post your practice in the comments. Please read someone else’s story and say something nice about it. Encourage, be kind, and help each other out.
Pamela ( I love my readers.)
p.s. Now I am going to go and tell a bedtime story to my child. And if they are asleep I am going to tell a story to my cat, who keeps trying to catch the words I am typing on my screen.
p.s.s. My child was already asleep. I finished writing this story at 1:30 in the morning, so I didn’t want to wake her up to tell her the story about the rabbit again. But, there is always tonight.