Fear in Writing: What's in and what's out (for children's writing)

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Friday, July 23, 2010

What's in and what's out (for children's writing)

A bit ago I deconstructed a fairytale and, as you can imagine, I see a lot of children's programming and read a lot of children's books.  Today this has me thinking...how are these stories so different from adult books or shows?

My kids aren't watching anything with firearms or sex.  (I know, such a dull mom!)  In fact, the most serious these kids' flicks get is accomplishing a hard task--like learning to count or going to the potty. 
But death is not off limits for children.  This is a reality parents seem okay with their kids learning on TV.  Ray the firefly dies in The Princes and the Frog.  Gaston plummets to his death in Beauty and the Beast, as does the Queen/Witch in Snow White.  The dragon/Maleficent is stabbed through the heart with a sword in Sleeping Beauty and war is the theme in Mulan.  (According to this article, The Princess and the Frog had to be rewritten for content problems.)
Moral: guns and boobs out, death in.

There doesn't have to be one.  At least, one would believe that if you watched 'Mickey Mouse Clubhouse' or 'Dora.'  Okay, so there is a small plot--seeking coconuts and using Mousekatools to find them or following Map to get to the fiesta.  But there is no dark antagonist (unless you count big, sad Pete or just-wanting-to-fit-in Swiper) or major turning point in these stories.

They can't be too multi-faceted.  With the other elements being limited, deep characterization is just inappropriate.  But there's always a lesson in each character (excepting user-friendly Mickey Mouse and the like): Tiana must learn that hard work is fine, but balance is necessary, etc.

So...how do children's writers do it?  Have you ever tried to write children's books?  Do you take an adult plot and simplify and clean?  Or do you start basic and build from there with color and fantasy?

I could see writing for children being completely freeing (of the imagination) and totally binding (of the darker instincts).  What is the reality?


  1. Never attempted it, but I imagine writing for children is not as easy as it sounds.

  2. I bet writing for children isn't very easy and comes with a whole hand book of rules.

    Great post.

  3. Just telling stories to my kids I think, "I could turn this into a book!" But then the whole list of what I COULDN'T say comes over me.

    I'd imagine the world of children's writing is pretty cutthroat.

  4. On the subject of your comment.

    I guess the world of writing is pretty cutthroat regardless of the segment.

  5. I write YA, but not younger. For me the trick would be to start with the characters. If your character is true to the age, the troubles will fit right in too.

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