The Must-Haves of a Children’s Book

Many people think that writing a children’s book is an easy process. Your target audience is going to be just a bunch of naïve and unsophisticated young readers, so it should be easy, right? Wrong! A common misconception among budding authors in children’s literature is that writing a children’s book is as easy as pie. However, in reality, it is an arduous process that takes a lot of considerations.

In order for a children’s book to be effective, it should contain the so-called ‘must-haves’ of children’s books. These must-haves are the essential elements that make a children’s book good and appealing to young readers. Janet Councilman, in her heartwarming children’s book Sammie the Shark and the Return of the Lost Gift, takes into consideration some of these essential elements.

Sammie the Shark and the Return of the Lost Gift is an adorable fable about the adventures of a shark named Sammie, who sees a reflective object on the seafloor, which eventually turns out to be a very special gift for someone he loves so much. To know why this book is considered a good one, below are the must-haves of a children’s book that you can find in Sammie the Shark and the Return of the Lost Gift as well as in plenty other books in children’s literature.

A narrative hook

Children are less likely to finish a book that does not pique their interest compared to adults. Adult readers are more tolerable of bad books because they are considerate of many things other than literary quality. For example, when you pick up a book, get a hundred pages into it, and realize that the book is not as good as you expected, you would not probably decide to stop reading midway through because you do not want to waste away the amount of time and money that you have already spent on that book. Children, however, are not nearly as concerned with such things as time and money when choosing to finish a book.

When writing a children’s book, it is important to keep in mind that you only have about three seconds to capture the interest of your young readers, and convince them to invest the next twenty minutes on seeing how your book turns out. To do this, you need to create a narrative hook in your book. A narrative hook is a literary technique that occurs at the beginning of a story and that aims to hook the attention of the readers so that they keep turning pages.

An example of a narrative hook can be found in Sammie the Shark and the Return of the Lost Gift:

Sammie and his friends live in the colorful Coral Bay. He finds a treasure, which he is not sure at first what this reflective objective could be. It all turns out to be a very special gift for a special someone he loves very much.”

In just three sentences, Janet Councilman already leaves her readers with so many interesting questions about the story of her book: What is this reflective object that Sammie finds? Who is this special someone that he loves very much?

A conflict

A conflict is necessary in making sure that children become emotionally invested in a story. Children, like adults, face challenges, work through fears, and make difficult decisions in real life. In order for these children to feel a deep connection with the characters of a story, these characters need to do such things as overcoming challenges and solving problems as well. This is where the importance of a conflict comes in.

Just as every great story has strong and admirable characters, it also contains some kind of conflict that these characters must resolve. A conflict is a literary element that involves a struggle between two opposing forces in a story, commonly between a protagonist and an antagonist. The conflict is what steers each and every story. Without it, the story would be pointless. Orchestrating a well-thought conflict will most certainly make your young readers emotionally invested in your book. It is in between the presentation of the conflict and its resolution that children commonly fall in love with the characters of a story. They internally cry with these characters, root for them, and rejoice with them once the conflict has been resolved.

An understandable language

Generally, language is important in literature. Language determines how effective a message is conveyed from an author to the readers. When writing a book, you should take into consideration the complexity or simplicity of the language that you use. Your language should correspond to the average level of understanding of your target audience. If you are writing particularly for children, then it is necessary to use plain language as much as possible.

Avoid using fancy-sounding words or phrases in your children’s book. If you use words or phrases that seem unfamiliar to children, then there is a good chance that your young readers will not easily understand what your book is trying to point out. For example, instead of using the word ‘ameliorate’, which frankly sounds sophisticated for a fifth-grader to know by heart, you should just simply use its more common synonym ‘improve’. When determining the language of your children’s book or any book in general, remember that your ultimate goal is not to sound like a vocabulary expert, but to make your readers understand what you are trying to say.

A set of illustrations

Illustrations are an important part of a children’s book. Compared to adults, children are more likely to get bored when reading a book that only has text and no images. For this reason, it is necessary to include illustrations in a book intended for children. The main purpose of these illustrations is to help get a message across to the target audience.

In a children’s book, illustrations are used to help young readers improve their reading skills. They are capable of transforming a simple textual story into an exciting and interesting one. Illustrations that use many colors are particularly capable of capturing both the attention and the imagination of children. Sammie the Shark and the Return of the Lost Gift, for example, is effective in captivating young readers partly because it contains colorful and well-drawn illustrations that make its story more fun and easier to understand.

A valuable message

As mentioned, the ultimate goal of books in general is to get a message across to the readers. The list of possible messages authors can convey to readers is endless. For a children’s book particularly, a strong message that can impart values to children is essential. This is mainly the purpose of children’s literature – to help, teach, and transform children into thinking adults.

A good children’s book always contains a valuable message that inspires, uplifts, motivates, and delights children. Other times, such message may be more somber and corrective as to help children navigate through the problems that they are facing in real life. Regardless of whatever your children’s book is all about, the most important thing is that it conveys a message that is valuable and transformative for young readers. In Sammie the Shark and the Return of the Lost Gift, the most important message that children can get is that the virtues of thoughtfulness, fellowship, and helpfulness are admirable and should be emulated.

The things mentioned in this article are some of the essential elements that a children’s book should contain to be good and successful. As you can see in Sammie the Shark and the Return of the Lost Gift, these must-haves – narrative hook, conflict, understandable language, illustrations, and moral lessons – are greatly effective in improving the overall quality of children’s books. By utilizing these elements, you can certainly create your own adorable stories that children will love!


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