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Writing Children's Stories


While fiction and nonfiction books inform, entertain, teach, and influence adults, their children's counterparts change and mold who children are and become and therefore carry an additional responsibility.

"As adults, we are used to the inaccuracies, distortions, half-truths, and white lies served up in print," according to Jane Yolen in her book, "Writing Books for Children" (The Writers, Inc., 1973, p. 3.. "We read cynically, with a kind of built-in despair we sometimes disguise as sentimentality... We are already changed, you see."

Children, having yet to lose their innocence, read with an open heart and a pure soul, which exudes trust, truth, love, and unquestioning belief. It is that belief that provides the essence of their imagination, enabling them to create the world in their heads that they think reflects the one on the outside of them.

"... The elements of good writing for children are the same as those of good writing for adults," Yolen continues (ibid, p. 3.. "At times, however, their application needs to be adjusted for readers with more limited knowledge and experience."

History of Children's Literature

Children's literature can trace its roots to the books that first appeared in Western Europe. Childhood, then not considered a separate development stage, was viewed as belonging to "small adults" who still needed to be guided and instilled with the proper morals.

"Until recently, a common characteristic of juvenile books in all cultures has been the didactic quality, using entertainment to instruct readers in ethical and social behavior," points out Connie C. Epstein in her book, "The Art of Writing for Children" (Archon Books, 1991, p. 6..

The still-undesignated genre emerged for two reasons. Certain book subjects and styles, first and foremost, became popular with younger readers, and publishers, secondarily, realized that there was commercial potential in producing them, thus sparking a separate genre.

Very early, but later-famous titles included Aesop's Fables, written by William Canxton in 1484, "The Hare and the Tortoise," "Ol' Yeller," "Tales of Mother Goose," "Robinson Crusoe," "Gulliver's Travels," and translations of "Grimm's Fairytales" from the German and "Hans Christian Anderson" from the Danish.

As children's literature evolved, it increasingly assumed a fantasy theme with such classics as "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" of 1865, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit"," The Wind in the Willows," "Winnie-the-Poo," and "The Wizard of Oz."

Another emerging approach was that of realism, which enabled authors to explore and capture the lives of real people. Well-known titles include Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," Margaret Sidney's "The Five Little Peppers" of 1880, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods" of 1932.

One of the principle distinguishing characteristics of children's literature is its dual-artistic make-up-that is, it features both text and illustrations. The earlier the intended age, the greater is the percentage of the latter.

"Not only has children's literature produced fine writers," explains Epstein (ibid, p. 5., "it has produced a home for gifted graphic talent. Throughout the history of the genre, illustrations and design have been considered an integral part of writing for the young in contrast to the largely decorative function they served in the production of adult books. At times, in fact, the pictures accompanying a story have proved to be more memorable than the text... "

It was not until 1918, or more than a century ago, that the Macmillan Publishing Company established the first separate and purposeful juvenile editorial department and public libraries created dedicated children's rooms not only to display books, but in which to hold readings and other events.

Dual Appeal

While adults browse bookstores and Internet websites for titles that spark interest in them, children's literature is not necessarily purchased, at least in the early stages, by the readers themselves. Instead, it must first pass the "parent and librarian tests," as both buy what they believe will serve the educational and entertainment needs of young people and they, in turn, determine the accuracy of those who represent them. Based upon age and developing personality, they may or may not agree with their purchasers.

Age also signifies an additional parameter. If it is early enough, "reading" may entail an act done to them, not by them.

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