A Child will Lead You

Whenever I speak at a writers’ conference, I tell attendees, “ If you have a child, were a child, or have ever seen a child, you can write for children.”

Happy Child Reading A Book Outside in NatureI stand by that statement. What I often fail to say is, “ It’s not easy.” Many writers have the misconception that writing for children is simple. After all, kids have limited vocabularies and stories for them contain fewer words.

So writers make the mistake of underestimating this audience. In my nearly 20 years as the editor of Focus on the Family Clubhouse Jr. and Clubhouse magazines, I’ve read countless stories where Grandma swoops in with some sage advice or manuscripts where the child is clueless until Dad tells him what to do. Ugh.

There’s nothing wrong with a clever granny or smart dad, but to quote a Writer’s Digest story by Deborah Churchman, “ Imagine reading an adult novel in which all the cleverness, knowledge, and decisions resided in children. Would you identify with it? Then why should kids appreciate stories that give adults all the power?”

Here’s the truth:

Kids are thinking, feeling, smart human beings. They lack life experience, but they have quick minds that are ready to learn. Here’s an even bigger truth: No matter what demographic you’re writing for, you must know your audience’s desires, felt needs, and thought processes if you’re going to be effective.

A writer’s number one goal must be to connect with a reader. Even if you’re an expert in a subject, you can’t talk down. You just need to talk . . . in a relatable, relevant way. And when it comes to communicating with children, the wisdom you share in your stories can shape who they become in the future. Honor your audience in all of your writing. The apostle Paul tells us to “ Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10, HCSB).

That’s great advice in how we conduct ourselves in real life and when we’re on our computers. Kids are honest, energetic and funny. If you’re writing for this audience, those words should describe your stories as well.

So before you send in a manuscript to a children’s editor, ask yourself,

Is this honest, energetic, and funny writing? If not, don’t send it. Go back and put a unique twist on a Bible story. Show how God uses the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. Be unique. Don’t doubt a child’s ability to understand concepts and accomplish great things. Climb into their world and encourage them to become all God wants them to be.

Among my stable of writers for Clubhouse and Club Jr., there are doctors, missionaries, engineers, former teachers, grandmas and stay-at-home moms. As I look through the magazines, I can remember the conference where I met each person. While their backgrounds might be different, they all have the ability to look at the world in a child- like—not childish—way. They possess a sensitivity toward words and their intended audience.

The older I get, the more child-like I become (my wife can confirm that fact). I want to be amazed at life and the gifts God gives us. And I want that amazement to be evident in every story that I write or edit. So inspire your audience with your stories. Challenge them. And above all, respect them.

JesseFloreaJesse Florea has worked at Focus on the Family for more than 23 years. For the past 19, he’s been the editor of Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse magazine (for boys and girls ages 8 to 12) and is currently the editorial director for youth publications, where he oversees Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines. He co-hosts the biweekly “Official Adventures in Odyssey” podcast podcast that often exceeds 1 million listeners. Additionally, he has written or co-written more than 25 books, including The Case for Grace for Kids, The One Year Devotions for Active Boys and Devotions for Super Average Kids.

Jesse will teach an afternoon workshop “By Hook or By Crook: How to Engage Young Readers” at the OCW 2016 Summer Conference.

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