People attend writing classes for many reasons – one of which is the arrival of grand-children. Suddenly there is an end-reader who is close to home, eager and captive. Best of all, one of the surest ways of encouraging children to read is if the stories feature the children themselves as leading characters.
Small persons are the best readers of – or listeners to – stories, especially those told or written by someone they know. My grand-children were showered with a variety of hand-made, cobbled together books – more like magazines sometimes – containing stories and poems for their birthdays and articles for Halloween or Valentine’s Day (on a heart-shaped piece of red paper). In spite of their limitations, the offerings usually went down well. Some were even taken to school to show the teacher, and there’s nothing more gratifying to a writer than that.
Children's book specialists declare that writing for children is not the easy option. That it isn’t a matter of practising on the small fry before tackling the important books for grown-ups. There is a list of must-haves: That children's books must have charm, magic, impact and appeal. They must have a worth-while idea. They must be structured well with a beginning, middle and end. The language must be appropriate for the subject and the age group, and the story must be credible to the readers. They should have an up-beat ending, no matter how grisly or sad the main part of the text may be. The children who are the subject of the stories should be the leading characters, rather than the adults who may also appear in them.
All true. But they are talking about proper publishing – the commercial field of children’s books. We who are parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles as well as writers can take note of all that, but we can relax a bit and write stories especially for our own children and grand-children, using their own names, and describing fictional or real adventures in which they have leading parts. Even hard-to-tempt young readers are thrilled to find stories about themselves in their Christmas stockings.
The stories can be illustrated by simple drawings – even stick figures like the pictures children themselves do. Images cut from glossy magazines can be used or, more fun, created by the collage process, built up from bits of coloured paper. This is something that children can do too, thereby developing their own creative instincts.