More on Writing for Children

Knowing what a publisher is looking for is important to me. There’s no point spending months writing a manuscript only to have every publisher reject it because you didn’t follow the rules.

So with this in mind, I wanted to find out what publishers of children’s books want. Yesterday, I visited the Write4Kids website and asked Laura Backes the following (I’ve removed the pleasantries):

Can you please define the difference between age groups 4 to 8 and 8 to 12? In particular, I would like to know the minimum and maximum word count for each group and what an editor might consider taboo subjects.

This was her reply:

The age group 4-8 falls into the picture book category. These books are generally 32 pages long, with illustrations on every page, and average 1000 words of text. The pictures are just as important to the story as the words. Picture books are written to be read out loud to children, so you don’t have to worry about vocabulary as long as the words are understandable within the context of the story.

Middle grade (ages 8-12) are actual novels or nonfiction books with chapters. The text can be 20,000-35,000 words (nonfiction tends to have less text than fiction) and may or may not be illustrated (fiction usually has no illustrations, nonfiction can be illustrated with drawings or photos). These are read by the children themselves, once they’re accomplished readers.

There are two categories between picture books and middle grade: easy readers (ages 5-8, short books meant to be read by emerging readers, so the sentences are short and grammatically uncomplicated) and chapter books (ages 7-10, short novels of about 9000-12,000 words broken into chapters about four pages long).

As for taboo subjects, there’s almost nothing taboo in children’s books. As long as you deal with a topic in an age-appropriate way, you can write about it. For example, a picture book might deal with the death of a grandparent or a pet. A young adult novel (ages 12 and up) might be about the main character’s best friend committing suicide. If your main characters are within the age range of your readers, then their problems and the way they handle them will be appropriate to the readership.

I’m interested in writing a chapter book for 8 to 12 year olds. So from the information I’ve already gathered, it seems that 12 chapters of approximately 10 pages will give me around 30,000 words. Perfect! I already have a story in mind, four characters and a hazy setting. The theme jumped out and bit me during the night and the motivation behind the main character fits the theme perfectly.

I do believe I want to write. What a wonderful feeling!

Writing for Middle Grade Children

Well, this has to be a good start. I’m actually interested enough to do some research on writing for middle grade children (that’s the 8 to 12 age group).

The following information was taken from Ask Laura at Write4Kids and was written by Laura Backes:

1. Middle grade novels contain about 12-15 chapters, with about six to eight book pages per chapter. This translates to up to 10 manuscript pages. This is just a general guideline; your story might require more chapters, but will probably fall within this range.

2. The traditional middle grade audience is ages 8-12. There is also now an upper middle grade age bracket of 10-14. The main thing that differentiates a middle grade novel from a young adult book is that the protagonist is 10-14 years old (most are around 12) and so are dealing with problems and concerns of a preteen, as opposed to a high school student. Middle grade characters are wrapped up in themselves, their friends and family. Young adult characters also think about these things, but in the context of how they fit into the larger world. Young adult characters are stepping across the threshold to adulthood, whereas middle grade characters are learning how to be adolescents.

3. Subplots are a hallmark of middle grade novels, and are what set them apart from simpler chapter books for ages 7-10.

4. Most publishers accept a query letter along with one or two chapters. Send for publishers’ guidelines to be sure.

And this was a comment made about talking animals, which I’m not sure if I’ll have or not but it’s worth knowing:

Talking animals aren’t completely taboo, it’s just that most writers don’t do them very well. What’s important is that your animals have completely developed, unique personalities and characteristics. You need to develop these characters just as carefully as if you were creating human characters. Too many writers use their animal characters as stereotypes, thinking kids will be immediately drawn to them just because they’re animals.

Everything your animals say and do should be a logical extension of their individual personalities. And give your readers some surprises. For example, a rabbit might not be cute and cuddly; he may be absentminded, selfish, or cunning. I suggest you read some previously published “talking animal” books to get a sense of what I’m talking about. William Steig and Kevin Henkes are two good picture book writers. Also, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (a middle grade novel) is an excellent course on how to create unique animals characters.

Cat’s Eyes

A few days before Christmas last year I told you about the arrival of two kittens. You’ll see by the story in the link that we didn’t plan on keeping them both but we were drawn in by how cute they were and ended up with three cats (including the cat we already had). Also one of the “girls” turned out to be a boy. πŸ™‚

Anyway, at just over eight months old, they have us wrapped around their little…paw! We love them dearly.

Sophie is aloof. She’ll find a quiet place and settle down to sleep. Having a cuddle is all right but only if it’s short. Sleeping and eating are much more important. Jasper, on the other hand, is loving. He wants cuddles all the time and insists on sitting on your lap no matter where you are, or what you’re doing. It can be quite annoying. They are both as cute as can be.

As you know I’ve been having problems with writing lately and was considering writing a SF story that I planned out a few months ago. However, every time I look into Sophie’s eyes another story jumps out at me. A children’s story. I feel that this story will be fun to write and considering I was complaining that I’d lost the fun in writing maybe this is the path I should be choosing.

Cat’s Eyes. What mysterious land is hidden within their depths?

Currently Reading

A few days ago I removed the reading list from the side bar of the website. When I first put the list here it was being powered by All Consuming but they merged with 43 Things and I didn’t like the new format. However, I still wanted to show what I’m currently reading and have included a smaller box with just that.

I’m a slow reader so the contents of that box won’t change that often but if you want to know what I’m reading…just check the sidebar.

Currently, I’m reading The Little Country by Charles de Lint. I’ve been too busy lately to actually sit down and relax but I’ll get around to finishing it one day. πŸ™‚


Yoohoo! A post that doesn’t mention the word…oh, I can’t say it…but it’s all I’ve spoken about for two weeks. πŸ™‚

I’ve been a good girl and I’ve finally gotten around to the anthology critting. We officially started the second workshop…*swallows*…on the first of this month. Oops, now I feel bad because it’s the 13th and I’ve only just begun. However, we only have three crits to do so all is good. I can handle that.

The first story has been read. I’ve written my notes in longhand (fancy doing such a crazy thing, but it’s better than sitting in front of the computer and trying to read 8,000 words) and tomorrow night I type the report. This will mean that I have one story done and I’ll attempt to do the second one on the weekend. Yep, plenty of time to get them all done. No worries.

Right now, it’s late and I’m off to bed. Good night.

War of the Worlds (Movie)

A week ago we went to see War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise.

This movie has attracted some criticism, yet we thoroughly enjoyed it. It kept me focused and involved, and at no time did I wonder about the time (which is usually an indication that I’m getting bored).

Some things were different from the original, but I didn’t feel that took anything away from the movie. The screaming of the daughter, Rachel, was tedious after a while and I also felt the ending was too quick but neither of these things spoilt the effect or the entertainment value.

Recommended as a must see. πŸ˜€