Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Write for Kids When You Don't Have Any of Your Own

(Editor's Note: this guest post is written by KCWC 2013 Faculty Member Michelle Medlock Adams)
   “Stop it, Ally!” screamed her older sister, Abby.
    Still, the taunting continued in the backseat.

    “Abby is a stupid head!” Ally shouted in a sing-songy manner.

   “That’s enough,” I interjected, glaring at my two preschoolers in the rearview mirror.

   After a few moments of quiet bliss, Abby leaned forward and very seriously asked, “Mommy, can we just sell Ally?”

   “No, I think we better keep her,” I answered, trying to stifle my giggles.

   As Abby sank back into the car seat, I made a mental note: “Write a picture book about wanting to sell a little sister.”

   Out of that encounter with my bickering babes, Sister For Sale was birthed—a picture book released in March 2002 by Zonderkidz, and since released in a paperback version (2004) and a special I CAN READ format (2007).

    In fact, most of my ideas for children’s stories have come from observing Abby and Ally going about their everyday kid life; listening to their delightful dialogue; and eavesdropping on them and their friends. But, what happens now that they are both teenagers?  I’m not about to have more babies just so I can stay “in touch” with today’s kiddos. (Hey, I’m dedicated to my craft, but that’s pushing it!) So, how can we write for little children when we no longer have young kiddos living in our homes? We have to embrace the three important “R’s” – Rent, Research and Remember.

1. Rent a Child for the Day: If you don’t have any children, you need to hang out with children so that you’ll understand kid lingo, children’s likes and dislikes, current trends, etc.

            *Offer to babysit for the neighbors’ children or your relatives’ children.

            *Take your turn working the nursery at church.

            *Work with Girl Scouts; Boy Scouts; other children’s groups.         

2. Research: hang out where kiddos hang out; read what they are reading; watch       what they are watching; get into their world! You’ll want to observe children at play. Watch how they interact. Listen to how they talk. Observe how they move and what they wear, etc.

            *Go to the Park.

            *Go to Chuck E. Cheese.

            *Go to the zoo.

            *See the latest animated movie and tune into the Nickelodeon and Disney channels on TV.

            *Read the Newbery and Caldecott winning picture books each year. (http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal)

3. Remember: think back to when you were a kid: Times may have changed but the raw emotion of a story never goes out of style.

            *Draw from your own childhood experiences.

            *Tap into memories of your proudest, saddest, most embarrassing or           disappointing moments. Slang, toys, and fashions come and go, but feelings are       universal and timeless.

            *Childhood memories may be the story buds for numerous future articles and         books. The key is to remember with all of your senses—what you saw, how it felt,          how it smelled, etc. Become that child again…           

      The old writer’s cliché, “Write what you know,” is still as true as the first time some wise person said it. So, get to know the children you’re writing for, and enjoy becoming a kid again. Now, don’t bother me. “Big Time Rush” is about to come on Nickelodeon…

Michelle Medlock Adams is an award-winning author of more than 35 children’s titles and 58 books in all. When not writing, she enjoys hanging out with her daughters, Abby and Ally, and cheering on the Indiana University Basketball team (Go Hoosiers!) The Adams family resides in Bedford, IN. www.michellemedlockadams.com

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