Thursday, September 1, 2016

September's Short Story

Summer is almost over!  For some of you that's a sad thing, for others (like me) who detest the hot, humid summers of the East Coast U.S., summer going away means you can finally pull out those sweaters and boots you've been saving and go read in a hammock while the cool breeze makes sure you don't get to hot under that afghan.  Ahhhhhhhhh fall.  I'll be so happy when the trees turn my favorite colors and I can stop sweating and feeling like I have to swim through the air.  

Anyway, September means another short story!  This month's category?  Children's fiction.  

Now if you've been paying attention to what I write versus what Faith writes, you'll notice that I tend to prefer older books.  The same is true here.  The classic Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne (not Disney's butchered remakes.  I'm talking before TV was even invented here) are some of my favorite children's stories of all time.  I also love Raggedy Ann and Andy, The Velveteen Rabbit, books by Thornton W. Burgess (if you don't know about him, he wrote darling books about animals), The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Borrowers.  In other words, if it's old and British I probably like it a lot.  

One thing I've noticed about a lot of children's literature today is that while you have the occasional really well-written children's story, most of them don't have much to them, and a lot of the books I've seen go somewhat like this: Middle-schooled kid is average and not liked by many people.  Middle-schooled kid has one friend as a sidekick.  Middle-schooled kid does something and goes on some kind of adventure that most middle-schooled kids would never do and would probably get their parents in trouble for doing it.  

See what I mean?  There aren't very many original stories out there for kids to read.  If you like the story I described above, then you have the entire library at your disposal.  For this month, though, I'm going to try to give you some help on writing something different.  Here are my tips:

1. Keep it appropriate.  
This is the most important.  You're writing for a kid, not a teenager or a young adult.  Cut the romance and basically everything you can think of beyond PG.  I know this is a no-brainer for most of you, but I'm saying it anyway.  

2. Don't make it too simple.
Kids are smarter than we take them to be.  They can generally understand things that they can't yet read for themselves, so unless you're trying to write a reader, don't let overly simplified vocabulary and a boring plot tie you down.  Don't make the story as involved as you would for a teen, and I wouldn't recommend adding a stunning plot twist, but don't cut out all the interesting stuff because you don't think they'll understand.  

3. Make it funny.
Kids love to laugh.  Give your character a goofy best friend, or insert a bumbling chef.  Don't purposefully belittle anything too much or the parent won't like you, and no dark humor, please, but put something in your story to lighten the mood and make your little reader giggle their little hearts out. 

4. Add an element of imagination.
One of my favorite things about children's literature is the fact that not everything is regimented and determined.  A painting of a ship can come to life and sail you to Narnia and that's perfectly okay.  Stuffed animals and dolls can have adventures when you leave your room, and wild animals can talk and have wonderful personalities.  Kids are so much better at imagining things than adults, and you can take advantage of that.  In fact, do take advantage of it and make your story as fun as possible!

If you want to do a little "research" on some good children's fiction (none of these are short stories) some newer books that I've read and liked are The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (it's a very long book so don't try to read it out loud), and the Hero's Guide trilogy by Christopher Healy (this one makes fun of the traditional fairy tales.  It's nothing like Disney and it's awesome).  

So there you go.  My favorite children's books and some advice for writing your own.  Have lots of fun, because this shouldn't be hard.  

~ Grace Weiser

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