Ever since the commercial success of Harry Potter, children’s books are seen by many as a get-rich-quick venture. Some people think that writing for children is easier than writing for adults because young tastes are not as developed or as discriminating. On the contrary, children will put down an uninspiring book without hesitation, whereas many adults keep reading to “see if it gets better.” Because children’s publishers are the last remnant of editors who still read over-the-transom submissions, and finding an agent, while desirable, is not a necessity, there is ample room for skilled newcomers to have their talents recognized. If you want to write for children, a thorough knowledge of the field is an essential first step. This preliminary introduction cannot substitute for firsthand knowledge gathered by reading read hundreds and even thousands of children’s books, but it will acquaint you with several types of children’s books being published.
Black and White: Board Books and Concepts
Tana Hoban’s notable Black on White illustrates simplicity. Here is a book for babies, with bold images. Board books feature pages printed on paper-covered cardboard. The thicker pages are designed for the youngest pre-reader; manually dexterity developed enough to turn a page comes later. Text is minimal. Length is eight to twelve pages. These are books for infants and toddlers, for cribs and toy boxes.
Closely related to the board book are the Concept books: abecedaries and introductions to counting, colors, and other pre-school topics. In Donald Crew’s Freight Train, a simply-illustrated train with vibrant, multicolor boxcars huffs through the pages in a first introduction to colors. Bruce McMillan’s Beach Ball—Left Right features photographs demonstrating opposites. Plot is not necessary. Even Eric Carle’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar is more a catalog of an insect’s eating habits on successive days of the week than a story about an actor encountering and resolving problems.
Tommorrow: Picture Books