|photo credit: John-Morgan via photopin cc|
The books that you read as a child – those that touch you and shape your perspective on life – are often the best you will ever read. And not simply for the sake of nostalgia.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” The reverse is obviously true. A book worth reading as a child is one whose worth stretches into adulthood.
So how do we write in such a way that captures the essence of what makes great children’s literature great no matter the age of our audience? The answer is not in writing childish – those are the books that aren’t worth reading as a child.
1. Speak to, not down
Do not attempt to make your audience feel stupid. Speak to them as if they were equal, regardless of their age. Your readers can tell if your words were written while looking down your nose. Write as if you are looking them in the eye.
Use language that makes them feel knowledgeable. Even if you use a word that may be out of your reader’s vocabulary, give context clues to help them understand it. Who can get into a story if you need a dictionary on every page?
2. Value innocence, not brokeness
Are the villains the only characters in your story worth knowing? Often times, they seem to be the most developed and compelling personality in many stories (fiction and non-fiction). Why? We don’t know how to value innocence.
Think of Lucy in Narnia. She’s not perfect, but she projects innocence. Not a flat, two-dimensional kind, but a real innocence that draws in the reader to like her and want to be like her on some level. In Lucy, innocence is attractive and valued.
3. Inject wonder, not dissatisfaction
Have you ever watched a small child find something exciting about virtually every situation? Each loose string on a piece of clothing is an adventure. Every pebble on the ground, a discovery waiting to be explored. Don’t encourage the reader to devalue their everyday life.
Write in such a way that the reader can find the excitement of the ordinary. In Narnia, Aslan told the children, “This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
Often times, when authors attempt to create stories for adults, they unlearn all the valuable lessons they learned from the works they valued so much as a child.
Whether we are speaking or writing to children or adults, these three lessons can help us connect with our audience. Be childlike, not childish.