| Writing for children, whether poetry or prose, requires a different perspective. Generations were raised on nursery rhymes and Mother Goose. Now we can add Dr. Seuss to that list of those who appeal to children of all ages.
Little boy blue, come blow your horn.
The cow's in the meadow. The sheep's in the corn.
But where is the little boy who looks after the sheep?
He's under the hay stack, fast asleep.
~ Mother Goose
Let's discuss what is necessary to make writing uniquely for children.
Children have likes and dislikes as varied as there are children. However they do have a few things in common.
1. For poetry, children enjoy rhymes, and the younger the child, the more he likes simple rhymes. The rhymes, though, should not be forced. They should flow smoothly and without twists and turns of lines to provide a rhyme. Also unneeded material shouldn't be inserted to provide a rhyme. Hmmmm . . . that is true of all poetry. Forced rhymes distract from the poetry, weakens the writing.
2. Children should not be "spoken down to," nor should the vocabulary be too far above their understanding. New vocabulary can be introduced by giving a meaning in the context of the poetry (or story). Sometimes a vocabulary can be added at the end of a story or poem, a good way to help children increase their vocabulary.
3. Poetry and stories should be written from a child's perspective. That doesn't mean that the narrator has to be a child, but that the writing is written from a child's point of view and interest level. The piece should be for children, not necessarily about children.
Many poems and stories are written about children but for adults. We need to be careful not to fall into that trap. When we write for adults and the topic is children (something they have done or said), the writing is geared to a adult's perspective.
4. A lesson or moral that may be included should not "preachy." A lesson learned without it being shoved down the reader's or listener's throat is easier to swallow. Every story or poem needs a theme, though, even if a lesson or moral doesn't naturally occur in the item.
5. Anything written for children should have needed punctuation, have correct spelling, and be grammatically correct. Like it or not, children learn from everything they read and hear read to them. We are "teaching" when we write. Hopefully we won't teach the wrong things.
6. What we write should be appropriate for the audience, the age group for whom we are writing. We want children to enjoy our poems or stories, not be frightened or exposed to ideas too mature for them or expected to read things that are just stupid. Many children find bodily functions funny, but that doesn't mean such functions make good topics for children's literature.
7. Some people believe that writings for children can be about anything and don't have to be high quality. If anything, stories, poetry, and/or articles written for children should be of the highest quality.
8. Then we must add a large dose of imagination.
The tips I've shared are the ones I learn from courses, workshops, and experience with writing for children. We need to remember that children are people, too, and have likes and dislikes. Sometimes we have to experiment and test our writing on real, live little people.
I like to have others read my works to their children, grandchildren, elementary classes, and/or other children in their lives. Then I hope they'll share the reactions of the children with me.