Essay or Children’s Book?

Every children’s book is a short story, but not every short story is a children’s book.

I’ve been writing children’s literature for about a year, and I still have so much to learn. Where can I improve most? Stop over thinking, and over complicating the story.

Even though my goal is to reach children, I’m still writing for adults. My strongest writing is short non-fiction. Therefore, my children book manuscripts are based on my own childhood. That’s my comfort zone.

The problem though, is that I’m reflecting on these experiences with the eyes of an adult – and that is how they are written.

Children understand big concepts, and depending on the age, they are starting to grasp big emotions. However, when I start focusing on the moral, and lessons-learned from my experiences, the fun and adventure can fade out of focus.

I’ve edited a lot of children’s book manuscripts that are “in-work” and I’ve noticed this trend. We need to write to keep a child’s attention and it’s hard, we want to put our big adult ideas all over it. Kids are smart, they have keen ears, and when we start hammering morals and lessons into stories all they hear is, “preach, preach, preach” and let’s be honest, nobody wants to hear that (especially a seven-year-old). Yet children’s book authors are quick to make that mistake.

So, if you’re wondering where my focus is when I’m editing its to take the “preach” out of my text. Carefully weaving the moral or lesson into the story.

I typically let my writing lead and I follow. Sometimes I’m disappointed when I set out to write a children’s book and end up with a personal essay, but I firmly believe that we write how and when we need to write. Through writing we dig into our sub-conscious and unravel a truth we’ve been searching inward to find.

If we end with a different genre than we intended, well then, so be it.

-Rachel McKee

Author: Rachel McKee

I love reading about everything. I'm not a book snob. Lately I have been "reading" a lot of picture books to my toddler and baby. In my past life before motherhood, I was a professional technical editor and writer.

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