2. Publisher's Note
3. What Every Children's Writer Should Know
4. Helpful Hints
The Writer's Connection explores the creative process of writing and the interplay between thoughts, feelings, and actions. We are an interactive community of authors and readers who share ideas to enhance our knowledge, skills, and experiences in writing fiction in any genre, but our emphasis remains mystery and suspense thrillers.
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2. Publisher's Note
Dear Writer's Connection Subscriber,
This month features what every children's writer should know, using the classic tale, The Polar Express by Chris Van Alsburg, as an example.
3. What Every Children's Writer Should Know
Writing for young children is a deceptively simple process where fantasy and reality come together to form a lasting impression on a young mind. Illustrations are artfully crafted to convey the simple themes and images that are a part of every child’s imagination. Words are carefully chosen to entertain and teach inquiring young minds the magic of words, thoughts, and ideas. There are three main ingredients for a good young children’s book: colorful illustrations, pithy declarative sentences, and phonics.
Have you picked up a young children’s book lately? Chances are yes, if you’re a young parent or older grandparent. What are the distinguishing features of a children’s book for ages . First, colorful illustrations using primary colors are required to catch the child’s attention. The story should be simple and teach a single lesson—e.g. helping out a friend, overcoming a fear, learning new facts, solving a problem, forming a relationship with a pet, or learning a new skill. The story should have a beginning, middle, and end; sentence structure should be short and declarative with a noun, verb-object format. Use large print and use punctuation to accentuate the story. Children love alliteration and it teaches them different beginning sounds—e.g. cat, car, claw, class. Rhyming is equally important because the lyrics should flow easily and could be sung. Total word count should be less than 200 words with repetitive phrases to enhance memory and learning.
Words should be consistently placed at the bottom of the page to train the child’s eye movements from top to bottom of the page. As the child learns to pronounce the words (phonics) his/her eyes should move left to right to teach the child beats, timing, and directionality. Of course the child will fixate on an object in the picture that should parallel the main theme of the sentence below the illustration. Those of you who have read the classic children’s story (made into a movie narrated by Tom Hanks) The Polar Express which is a coming of age book on believing in Santa Claus. The book is allegorical in that it teaches a lesson about beliefs that transcend age and circumstance. Chris Van Alsburg’s 1985 children’s classic is a mixture of fiction, fantasy, and emotion as a young boy is drawn to a train conducted by Tom Hanks’ voice in the movie only to find other children eagerly awaiting their first trip to the North Pole to see Santa Claus. The book builds to a crescendo as the train moves around mountains barely escaping disaster to arrive safely at Santa’s Village where the young boy meets his hero. At that magical age between belief and disbelief Santa reminds all of us that to believe is to hear the sound of the silver bell. Faith and hope are offered only to believers where doubt and despair once resided in the young boy, as his body clock ticked ever so slowly into the twilight of adolescence.
Illustrations keenly depict the dark shadows of childhood where fear becomes triumph, where doubt becomes hope, where magic becomes real, and adults can once again be transformed into innocent children who anxiously await the trains of life that take them to exciting faraway places that transcend time. The story has become an epiphany for young minds caught between childhood and adolescence. The confluence of magic and reality is depicted on each impressionistic illustrated page without sharp lines or edges. Mr. Van Alsburg’s masterpiece is timeless and precious, for it reminds us of the child in everyone who chooses to believe.
1. Go to the preschool section of your local B&N and look at the size, color, and fonts used to weave a story that both entertains and instructs. Look for the three criteria for a good preschool book.
2. Read The Polar Express to a child ages and notice the questions the child may ask about the young boy. Which main character does the child most identify with and why?
3. Write a 200-word short story for four to six year olds and have an early childhood teacher critique your story as to its entertainment and pedagogical value.
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About Keith Barton, Ph.D.
Dr. Barton received his Ph.D. in 1972 from the University of Texas at Austin and has been a practicing therapist for over thirty years. He is currently enrolled in MentorCoach and is accepting new clients. He has been an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina, consultant to Fortune 500 companies in executive development, founded and managed Texas Community Living Ventures, Inc., in 1986 for providing group home services to persons with mental retardation, and has been running a clinical practice in Northwest Houston since 1990. He writes part-time with the goal of completing one novel a year. His desire to coach others derives from his passionate interest in helping others become attuned to their creative powers of storytelling.
Dr. Barton has training in coaching, cognitive and family therapy and health psychology. He has published articles, made presentations and conducted workshops about:
Anxiety and achievement
The relationship between psychology and spirituality