Perhaps the most difficult genre is children’s literature. This is because children are very literal and because there are constraints on vocabulary, age appropriateness, and word count. Also the theme must appeal to both the child and the adult who chooses his books.
Books for preschoolers are tightly structured. Typically, they are 24 or 32 pages long with four pages reserved for the title, copyright, dedications, and other information. Sometimes they run a little more or less, but they are always a multiple of eight. Word counts for picture books are less than 1,000 with less than 600 preferred. Picture storybooks are less than 2,000 words with 1,000-1,200 words preferred.
The word limitations make pacing very important. Each word on a page must move the story forward, provide action and variety, and at the same time flow well with the artwork. While benefitting from the illustrations, each story must stand on its own. Typically each book has 14 to 18 scenes with a single activity per scene. The genre comes in three categories: fiction, concept, and novelty books.
As with adult books, the fictional story must have a beginning, middle, and an end. At the outset, the main character, a child, is introduced along with some difficulty he must overcome. Story is conflict, so in the middle there must be three obstacles to overcome. Though the character tries and fails with the first one, he will get closer to his goal. The second obstacle is more difficult and the conflict more intense. The third obstacle is the most difficult and he almost fails. At the end, he both reaches his goal and has changed for the better in some way. While adults may have a role in him reaching the goal, he must be the one who conquers the problem.
The concept book can be fiction, following the above form, or non-fiction. It teaches an educational concept or suggests a way in which the child may overcome a childhood dilemma.
Novelty books can also be fiction or non-fiction. They use a gimmick such as seek-and-find, pop-ups, or lift-the-tabs in addition to story.
Stories appropriate for preschoolers include situations common to the child’s world, timely topics, diversity, and life passages. At this age, topics appealing to children must also appeal to parents. Adults tend to like stories that include nostalgia, relationships, and redeeming values.
In my next blog entry, I’ll discuss books for elementary and middle school children.—Quinn