I want to write a picture book but I want to do it my own way. I’ve read that picture books should have repetition and I think repetition is boring. I’ve read that publishers like stories where children solve their own problems but life’s not always like that, is it? I have a really good idea for a story about a girl who is lost in the bush and her grandpa saves her. Why can’t I write the book the way I want?
If you have a great idea for a story then I think you should just start writing and see where it takes you. It’s your work. Have fun with it. Write it the way you want and decide what you want to do with it later. Not all children’s stories have repetition and not all children’s stories place young characters at the centre of a solution. However, plenty do and I think this is why.
Children learn through repetition but not only that, it makes them feel safe. When you’re little you don’t always know what’s planned for the rest of the week, or even the rest of the day, and lots of decisions are made for you. It’s very comforting to read a book with a reoccurring pattern. If the story has a predictable text then the world in the story feels contained and manageable. Readers feel powerful because they can predict what’s happening next and join in. When children join in they actively engage with the story. Once children know parts of a book they feel successful and personally connected to the story.
Also, repeating a phrase or a sentence can improve the rhythm of a story and repetition of an idea at both the beginning and the end of a text can strengthen the circular nature of a story and create a satisfying ending.
Young Characters as Problem Solvers
If we consider an audience of child readers then of course a story is more exciting, interesting and satisfying when a child character solves the problem. It’s not always like real life but that’s part of the fun. Real life can be a little bit tiresome when adults constantly have all of the power. Children, like adults, often turn to literature for healthy escapism.
Stories that paint children as assertive and successful help to build resilience in children. They show children that everyone has some power over their own life and their own choices. They encourage problem solving and help children to understand that you don’t have to be big to be important.
Stories that show children in control allow children to dream. They transport kids into another world and work in tandem with a child’s imagination to show them that life’s possibilities are endless.
Stories that have children in control can be tricky to write because, well, life’s not always like that. Remember though, solving a problem doesn’t have to mean putting an end to global warming single-handed. (Think of The Lorax – the child has a seed to plant as part of the solution.) A problem may even still remain but the character has found a way of coping with it. Using the lost in the bush example, perhaps the child could think of a way to signal to Grandpa or cleverly stays safe until Grandpa arrives.
If you’re not sure what makes a good picture book try to remember your audience. What do they want to hear? Because writing a story for children is more than just writing what we want them to hear.
Katrina Germein is a best selling picture book author published internationally. Her first book, Big Rain Coming, has remained continuously in print for over ten years and her recent title My Dad Thinks He’s Funny was Highly Commended in the 2011 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. The sequel, My Dad STILL Thinks He’s Funny, was published in August 2013. Katrina is presenting as part of the YA/Writing for Children Bootcamp being held at SAWC 2-3 November.