Writing For Young Children

There’s a common idea amongst many people that writing for children is easy. This isn’t true. In some ways writing for young children can be harder than writing for adults, as things like word choice require a lot more thought. Still, there are always tips to give for all types of writing, so here are ours for writing for young children.

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Decide on a reading age

As children work their way through primary school they very rapidly expand on their reading knowledge. One year they’ll be stuck on simple sentence and the next they’ll be more than happy to use compound sentences. This means you’ll really need to know your target audience before you write. If you’re not 100% sure on what words are best for your audience, buy a literacy teaching exercise book for your age group and have a look at what words are suggested in those.

Make it a challenge

Books should challenge children, as it’s this slight difficulty that helps them to expand their vocabulary. Use a few words in the book that are a little above their reading age but that can still be sounded out. This way they’ll either be able to guess what the word means by the context or they’ll ask a parent or teacher. Don’t make these few extra words too advanced or too frequent though; you don’t want to put them off reading.

Make it aspirational

For children, a lot of their time is spent thinking about what it’s like to be older, whether that’s being year six and sitting on the benches in assembly or year three and being in a different section of the playground. Similarly, your books for six year olds shouldn’t have children of that age as the protagonist. The protagonist should always be a couple of years older so your readers can aspire to be like them.

Think in threes

This is best for books written for really young children, but in theory it works well for all readerships. Think of fairy tales; there are the three little pigs, the three billy goats gruff, the three wishes, everything is in threes. This is because they provide a pattern for the children without dragging the story out too much.

Use repetition

Repetition is a great way to make children’s books interactive. I remember We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was my favourite book as a child because I loved joining in with the repeated bits. Not only does this repetition make the reading fun (and so encouraging children to read more), it also helps children to recognise and learn the words on the page.

 

These seem like pretty simple tips, I know, but follow them and you’ve got the makings of a great children’s story. If you’re ever stuck just think back to when you were younger and take a good look at your favourite book then. What made you love it so much? Chances are, the reason you loved that book will be the reason your readers love yours.

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Book Review: The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2, edited by Teika Bellamy

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 is a collection of short stories written by various writers on the theme of mythology and fairy tales. Published by Mother’s Milk Books, a Nottingham based publishing company, it’s a creative triumph that really shows off the talent of emerging and established writers.

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The collection is a great read, I think especially for fans of mythology and fantasy. Unfortunately though, it’s the weakest story in the collection that serves as our first taste. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent story, but to me it lacked the originality and flair that the other stories are brimming with. It seemed to fall flat at the end, with no clear conclusion or resolution, resulting in the feeling that the story has just been cut off. I imagine if this story were in the middle of the collection I wouldn’t have noticed these small flaws, but I always hold the first story of an anthology to a very high standard as it’s that piece that will make me decide whether to read on or not. It’s a shame that this one didn’t quite hit the mark, but nonetheless I read on and the rest more than made up for it.

My favourite story in the collection is The Jungle Goddess, written by Anuradha Gupta. I love the exotic setting that stands out amongst the dull English background of the other stories. It’s vibrant and refreshing, with a spark of energy that brings the tale to life. Gupta has written the story in the present tense, and whilst it’s very unusual it’s done so well that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

The drummers drop their sticks and a silence falls over the crowd. Men and women, all turn to stare at the vision before them. Gungun, with her dark untamed locks tumbling down over her bare shoulders and breasts, adorned in nothing but a silver anklet, stares back absently at the blazing fire and the grey shadows that stand all around it.

The story is new and the writing is truly excellent. This extract is just a small example of the imagery and innovative writing that Gupta uses in the story. It’s a fantastic story that really shines out in the collection.

Little Lost Soul, written by Marija Smits, is very different to the other stories in the collection, mainly because of the writing style. I find Smits’ writing to be very literary and of a high quality that could easily produce the next Penguin Classic. It’s hard to find the right words to describe it. I guess the closest I can think of is to compare it to the writing of Philip K. Dick. For me, it resembled his writing very much, with its industrial, futuristic setting and amazing writing. I look forward to reading more of Smits’ work in the future.

Lilasette is a story that for me really embodies the spirit of the publishing company, whilst giving us a true fairy tale. It has a great evil queen that steals her servant’s newborn baby so that she can have a daughter to shape into her own image. Despite not being a main character, it’s the servant who really stands out in this story. Her empowerment is to be admired and she really helps to shape the story into something that reminds you of why mothers are so important.

It’s also worth giving Ana Salote’s story a quick mention. Her fairy tale twists what we know and gives us a refreshing take on a fairy. I think it is great writing and I really enjoyed the 21st Century, slightly gritty realism of the story. The title Grimm Reality is very well chosen, and embodies Salote’s writing style.

On the whole the book is very well put together. It’s a good collection of varying stories and has been edited and produced very professionally. I was a bit disappointed to see that the same fairy tale has been used twice in the book. Up until the very last story I was really impressed that I hadn’t come across any obvious repetitions, but the last one was a little too similar to the first for me. However, the editor clearly recognised the similarity as they’ve started and ended the collection with these two pieces. If you can’t avoid a repeat, embracing it like this is the best way to do it.

The real highlight of the book is the illustrations. I don’t know where Teika Bellamy found Emma Howitt but she’s the silent shining star in the book. Howitt’s illustrations are beautiful and intricate and really help to bring each story to life. I hope more people take notice of her work, because it’s so beautiful that it deserves to be scattered across books everywhere.

 

Overall this book really is worth a read. I loved the stories, especially the modernised ones, and felt that they all slotted in well with each other. Having not read The Forgotten and the Fantastical 1 I can’t really compare the two, but if that one is anything like this one it’s most definitely worth a read. Full of fairy tales for adults brimming with truly fantastical characters, this collection belongs on everyone’s bookshelves.

Book Review: The Troll by Nicola Monaghan

Modern day fairy tales are often full of tired clichés and annoying attempts at 21st century twists, but Nicola Monaghan’s The Troll is a beautiful exception. It tells the chilling tale of three old school friends who become the target of an internet troll, who threatens to bring to light events from their dark (and to us, unknown) pasts. Although most internet trolls stay hidden firmly behind their screens, this story speculates on what would happen if one were to enter reality.

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The story is split into three novellas, each an exciting story of its own. Each starts and ends with a blog post that sounds like a classic fairy tale, yet enriched with the tone of a spiteful villain. I love this twist, where the tale is told from the point of view of the villain of the story, and it makes me think of The Brothers Grimm fairy tales. The blog is a great way to move the story along in general, and is used at many points during the story to great effect.

One day, they learned how to get to Fairyland. Back then, this trip was much cheaper and *so* much easier. They needed only to find the magic beans, or the small squares of enchanted paper, to take them far, far away.

This section from one of the blog posts is also a great example of how the writer manages to describe drugs from the perspective of a user. It’s an unusual way of describing them, but works really well in the context of the narrator.

As far as imagery goes, this story is full of it. In every good book there’s always at least one image that sticks in your head, and this one is no exception. For me, it’s the image of a dead rabbit strewn across one of the character’s front gardens.

…a rabbit whose head had been dragged around like a pen to make a message…she picked up the animal’s body parts and entrails, heaving as she went. She put it all into the bin bag. She was pretty sure it wasn’t recyclable, and had no idea if it was legal to put dead rabbits in your rubbish bin.

This is my favourite scene in the story because it’s so well written and the imagery is amazing. I love how the writer has paired such a disturbing image with humour without going over the top. It’s the narrator’s internal monologue that makes this such an amusing scene. Without hearing her thoughts, we’d undoubtedly just find it horrifying. This addition of light humour adds to the tension of the piece and keeps it gripping.

There are two narrator’s in the story; Kelly and Louisa. Kelly is my favourite narrator. She’s such a likeable character, with her Bridget Jones-esque life and ‘fuck it’ attitude. I found myself loving her and sympathising with her troubles; it was almost like she was my own friend. Her voice is strong and funny, and even when she’s talking about serious things there’s always the edge of humour there.

Lousia, however, is a character I could do without. Don’t get me wrong, she’s written so, so well and exists off the page just as much as Kelly does, but I just straight out do not like her. I found her to be annoying and irritating, constantly with her head in the clouds and not knowing what she wants. And then when she knows what she wants, she never goes for it. She acts innocent throughout the story but she isn’t, and deep down I’m sure she knows that. The writing of Louisa though is fantastic. Her insecurities are shown very subtly through her narration, and Jack (her husband) humanises her a lot.

Jack himself is a very interesting character, especially when compared with his brother, Adam. Adam, Kelly and Louisa are the three being terrorised by the troll, and so have been good friends since they were very young. Jack is very different to them though. He’s sensible and reliable, which contrasts with Adam and Louisa’s uncontrolled chaos of lives. This contrast makes him an interesting character as it helps to highlight how unpredictable Adam, and helps me to understand why Louisa is sometimes wanting more from him.

My only issue is with the end of the story. I can’t really say much without ruining it, but what I can say is that I wish Kerry and Louisa’s lives had both changed to the same extent. I mean, I’m happy with the ending and it works, but it’s a little too perfect in parts for me. As horrible as it sounds, I wanted it to be a little less happy in some ways so it balanced more between them (Sorry if that doesn’t make sense, but hopefully when you read it yourself you’ll get what I mean!).

Even if you find yourself not liking this story (which I highly doubt), you’ve got to admire it’s style. Not only is it a fairy tale with a troll entirely based in the world of social media, it even reads like social media. When it’s Kelly’s turn to narrate we see ‘@kelly’, and for Louisa ‘@louisa’. And in Kelly’s parts, the hashtags are hilarious. Kelly is a local celebrity, a radio DJ, so is always on social media. So of course naturally her narration also reads like it’s come straight from Twitter. ‘#shit’. I love how in character they are too, for example ‘The #SinsOfTheMother and all that’, ‘#FiftyShadesOfSomething’ and ‘The last thing she needed was another #nutter in her life’. They read so naturally and well, it strengthens Kerry’s character and makes her even more loveable.

It’s also worth mentioning, from a literary point of view, the metaphors and descriptions in the story. There’s one part where Louisa is reminiscing about her past, but rather than the usual smells or sounds taking her back and being the prominent image it’s colour.

Orange inlaid with purple on wallpaper in her aunt’s living room. Green with a lighter green on a pair of curtains at their gran’s house. Puke green.

I love how this is a different way of remembering and describing the past in a story, without making it boring and forced.

Kelly’s metaphors are what really get me going though. My favourite being ‘it felt like the circus had come to town…the clowns were doing somersaults and the lions were roaring’, used to describe a hangover. Not only does it sum up the general idea we get of Kelly in the book, but it also creates quite an unusual and interesting image.

The story itself is full of suspense, and like good sex it builds us up numerous times and backs away just as we get close to reaching the climax. At some points it even gets frustrating. It builds to a point where we finally feel like we’re going to find out about what happened that summer, and then the chapter abruptly ends and we’re back to drunk Kelly, or Louisa’s mundane love life. ‘#fucksake’.

The book itself, as an object (and of course by object I mean e-object), is professional and looks like it could be available in bookstores. The cover designs are great and the typesetting on the inside is very professional. It looks amazing and just shows how much of an impact indie publishing is making in the publishing world. I love it.

 

Nicola Monaghan is an indie writer to look out for. Her previous work (The Killing Jar, Starfishing) is only the beginning of her career, and each piece gets better (and a little darker) than the last. She’s a great writer, with gritty, bone-chilling stories that strike at the heart of real issues like drugs, cyber-bullying and relationship problems. It’s rare that I give a 100% positive review (seriously, take a look at my others here), but this story truly deserves it. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for Ms Monaghan’s next work.