WRITES FOR CHILDREN WITH THE LONG VIEW
Southern California-based children’s author Terry Pierce, a former Montessori teacher, teaches children’s writing courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She has written 20 books with the goal of instilling lifelong love of reading and appreciation for nature, the two most recent being Mama Loves You So and My Busy Green Garden. Showcase asked her if there’s a winning formula.
Showcase: Are there common misconceptions about writing children’s books?
Pierce: Yes, the most common being that writing for children is easier than writing for adults. I often see this in my teaching experience with UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where students enroll in a class with a story idea that clearly isn’t fitting for young children but they think it will be easier to write for children, so they keep their “adult” idea but try to dummy it down for kids.
I like to remind anyone who wants to write for children to make sure your topic/subject/characters are appropriate for children. Will it fit the needs and interests of your target audience? If you’re not sure, read as many books from the genre you want to write. For example, for my MFA in Children’s Writing, I read over 500 picture books in two years. And I’ve ready many more since then! You must fully immerse yourself in a genre, if you want to write it.
Showcase: What led you to the genre?
Pierce: I was a pre-K/K Montessori teacher for 22 years before trying my hand at writing children’s books. One of my favorite parts of teaching was reading to children. I love picture books — how the story or concept is conveyed through a balance of text and illustration. I consider picture books to be works of fine art. They’ve always fascinated me!
Additionally, as a mom, I read to my son every day (and night) through his elementary school years. It was through reading to him that I discovered the real magic that happens between a child, a book and the adult reader. As children’s author Mem Fox famously said, “The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading.”
Showcase: Do you have tips for style of writing?
Pierce: Read-read-read! Read books that are like what you WANT to write. And then find your OWN voice/style to tell your story.
Showcase: Are there secrets that contribute to making a story that a child will ask to hear again and again, and remember fondly in another 20 years?
Pierce: Children will ask for repeat readings of stories they connect with emotionally. Either they identify with a main character or story problem in some way, or they find joy in the reading experience itself (hearing the text, seeing the art).
To answer your opening query about a winning formula, it’s simple: Dedication to learning the craft, consistent writing and persistence = success. Writing well is hard work but it’s also joyful work. It might take a few years to get published, but it will happen.
Keep up with Terry on her website