Swag Review: Writing Children’s Books

ChildrensBooksSome time ago, my parents-in-law gave me a copy of Writing Children’s Books by Lesley Bolton and Lea Wait. (The book is part of a series modestly titled The Only Writing Series You’ll Ever Need, which also includes how-to’s on grant writing, screenplays, and publication.)

This book is full of straightforward, basic information. I think if I had read it when I was first stepping into the world of writing, I would have found it much more helpful. It is a very good primer, with excellent tips on getting started, coming up with a plan, and what it takes to fight your way through traditional publication. (I will say, however, that the title is a bit of a misnomer. Only one chapter of twelve is actually about writing and revising. The rest is about prep, research, publication, and the industry in general.)

Writing Children’s Books covers a lot of ground. Starting with the history of children’s books, it brings you up to speed quickly and touches on the broad array of audience ages- from infant’s board books to the awesome-for-all-ages free-for-all that young adult books have morphed into. It runs the gamut of experience from first toying with the idea of maybe writing a book, to the moment your sweet baby hits the shelves. A lot of detail gets glazed over, but the book goes over quite a bit of information. Like I said, very good primer.

Another thing this book does well is that it is absolutely accessible. The language is clear and easily understood, the information is broken down into logical and digestible segments, and even the things that normally terrify me (You want me to show this stuff to other people? Send it to agents and publishers? Whaaaat?) are made somehow less scary. The authors lay it all out calmly and practically, and it maybe doesn’t sound too bad after all. It was a quick and engaging read that I generally enjoyed.

However, its handling of some pretty important pieces to the modern publishing scene seems outdated. The authors have little to nothing to say about indie- or self- publishing, and seem almost dismissive in their few mentions of digital publications. Traditional publication is really the only respectable venue in this book, whether it’s approached with or without the help of an agent.

Another shortcoming is that, in the book’s herculean task of covering all that information, a lot of detail gets lost. The book offers few concrete examples, and few specific resources on where to get more information. While there is an appendix which offers a list of resources, none of the resources are tied directly to the text, or organized by topic, so you’d still have to do quite a bit of hunting to find the information. Furthermore, we’re given a lot of things to do- such as submit to magazines, query agents, etc- without being told how to do them or where to get more information.  I feel like this could have gone from a very good primer to an excellent primer if it had put a little more effort into pointing readers toward other sources of information. As things stand, you’re pretty much left with… a google search? reading a rival title? guess work? Not sure…

My final analysis? A good beginner’s read that is quick and simple and unintimidating. If you’re new to the literary world, give it a read! But if you’ve already waded out into the wide waters of writing and feel like you have some sense of what you’re doing and where you’re going, it’s probably not worth your time- you’ve likely already gathered much of the information here. There are many other much more comprehensive and specific books out there for the intermediate and advanced writers.

(Looking for other writing books to try out? I found the following titles to be helpful: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and Davide Henry Sterry; and your particular flavor of Writer’s Digest Books’ market books– I have the Novel & Short Story breed mucking up my desk. Maybe give one of these a shot. And there’s always the vastness of the internet!  Tons of resources are available online. Some of my favorite websites for writing information and encouragement include Writer’s Digest and various agent blogs. Next on my writing books to read list? Terry Brooks’ Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life.)

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