Celebrating the Zoo's reopening
WHO'S Your Target Audience?
As a children's book editor, I've worked with many really talented writers who have great stories to tell--imaginative, fun, educational. But, I've also read many manuscripts that for one reason or another miss the mark. One thing I find in common, whether a story is great or not so great, is that authors often struggle to understand and write for their target audience.
One of the tricky things about writing for children is that there is a wide range of ages, stages of development, reading abilities, and interest levels. And you need to determine and understand who you're writing for in order for your book to be successful. Below are a few tips:
1. To determine the age of your audience, first consider your subject matter. The more complex, the older the age should be. But, you also need to think about kids' interests at various levels. Most 5th graders are not going to be interested in subjects that seem too juvenile. And, books with a lot of puns or situational humor are going to be confusing to young kids. If your story has children as characters, the characters' ages should roughly match your audience's age.
2. Choose the right format. There are lots of different types of children's books: board books, picture books, early chapter books, chapter books, graphic novels, etc. Sometimes an author starts writing what they think will be a picture book only to discover it would be better as an early chapter book.
3. Don't write too much! Word and page count are critical and one of the biggest challenges authors face. This especially pertains to picture books and early chapter books. Go to a bookstore and scan through books for your target audience age to get a sense of how long your book should be. Most people write too much.
4. Check the readability. If your book is targeted to 8-9 year olds, take some time to figure out the average reading level for third or fourth grade. Most kids at that age are reading independently, but if your book is too challenging, they won't read it. You can determine your writing's reading level through online Lexile readers that will scan a portion of your book. If it doesn't match, you need to edit.
5. Check the readability. Yep, I said it again. I have read many manuscripts where the story and the reading level simply don't match. When you're writing, think about the end experience. Who will be reading it? An adult reading to a child? Or is the child reading it on their own? Is this intended to help kids learn how to read? Lots of picture books are read to children. So, many people think they don't need to consider their book's reading level. But, 1st through 3rd graders, kids who are transitioning to early chapter books, will read picture books independently. Regardless, if you've included vocabulary or concepts that are too advanced, parents will be spending too much time explaining, and that's when kids become disinterested.
6. Choose an illustrator carefully. There are so many talented illustrators out there, each with their own style. You can see illustrators' portfolios on the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) website. Make sure the illustrator's style matches not only your vision for the story but also the target age.
7. Get help and feedback! Have your story read by parents and teachers of your intended target audience. Or contact a children's book editor (like myself--shameless plug) to help you. I love helping people with their stories, whether it's at the beginning or it's ready to publish. But, regardless, make sure to get feedback. It can seem intimidating, but it's worthwhile!
When I write a story, I always think of the end experience for a child who is reading it, whether independently or having it read to him or her by a parent or a teacher. What kinds of conversations will my story lead to? What kinds of questions will be asked? What kind of message will be conveyed? And, how can kids draw out the message themselves? In today's world, children's books with inspiring messaging seem to be more important than ever. But it's not just the message itself that is significant, it is also the way that it is delivered. Below are some of my favorite children's books with inspiring messaging, delivered in such a way that kids can connect with and hold onto.
In Those Shoes, Maribeth Boelts tells an inspirational story of a boy who is envious of the other kids who have "those shoes." You know the ones--the shoes that everyone wants, the shoes that all the cool kids wear, the shoes that are not inexpensive. But Jeremy has a change of heart and change of perspective when he realizes that there are more important things than having "those shoes." Such a great story.
Maybe it's because I often felt like an "Odd Velvet" as a kid, or maybe it's because I wish that I had the self-confidence of Velvet, but Mary Whitcomb's book has great messaging for all of us who are "odd" or not. This book speaks of inclusion, trying new things, and questioning what "odd" really means after all.
Miss Tizzy is everyone's beloved neighbor and the children's pied piper, leading parades, baking with them, playing dress up, and being an example of love and kindness for others in need. But when Miss Tizzy needs help herself, the children know just what to do. Libba Moore Gray's story is about taking care of others and the ripple effects of kindness. It reminds me of those who have been kind to me, and, if I cannot return their kindness, I can at least pass it forward.
Swimmy by Leo Lionni is a classic. I think I read it to every class I ever taught (as I know many other teachers do too!). Swimmy tells the tale of one very small fish who inspires others to work together to fend off danger. One tiny fish may not make a difference, but together, anything is possible. A story about collaboration, bravery, and the power of teamwork, Lionni's messaging is spot-on as much today as it was in 1964 when it was first published.
Last Stop on Market Street has received numerous awards, including the coveted Newbery, and for good reason. This book's messaging is powerful without being overly spelled-out for young readers. In other words, it makes kids think. This book is rich with messaging: gratitude, finding beauty in unexpected places, optimism, helping others, appreciation for others. In addition, Christian Robinson's illustrations bring urban-living and its residents to life in a fresh, energetic, vibrant way.
Thank you, Mayor faulconer
Thank you, Mayor Faulconer, for reading my book, A Letter from Tashi, as part of "Storytime with Kevin." I am so honored that it was chosen to be read in celebration of the San Diego Zoo's reopening.
The San Diego Zoo does amazing work, locally and around the world, to protect endangered species like snow leopards. If you have the opportunity to visit, please do. They need our support! It is my privilege and honor to work them.
The San Diego Zoo is not only a San Diego treasure but a national treasure as well.
World giraffe day!
Today, June 21st, is the longest day of the year--perfect for celebrating the longest-necked (and tallest) mammal in the world. It's World Giraffe Day! Sadly, giraffes are quickly disappearing from our planet is what is called a "silent extinction."
Are you looking for a way to help? You can help researchers in Kenya count, identify, and track giraffes by reviewing photos taken from trail cameras. This is a great project for kids! To learn more, visit Wildwatch Kenya.
Storytime at Warwick's
I will be reading A Letter from Tashi during "Storytime with Sonia," Warwick's weekly virtual storytime, this Friday 6/19, at 11am PST. Check it out!
"When I say, 'It's you I like,' I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch...that deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive: love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.
So in all that you do in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are."
Get the buzz on what's happening in my world of children's books and education!