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First time dipping toes into children's writing- am I on track or way off?

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Hi everyone,

I'm a former school teacher and have recently been toying around with a concept for a children's story book. Perhaps it's a bit of nostalgia!
My concept came from reflecting on what sparked my imagination when I was a child - the night sky, flying, garden fairies, laying outside under the stars... and the feeling that night time was a special time where magic became possible. I also wanted the story to allow children to practise difficult sounds (e.g. s).

I'm writing with a 6-8 year old reader in mind (although I could be way off, of course).

I have a few queries:

1. Is the language and literary devices appropriate for the age group?
2. Is my mc relatable? I'm conscious of keeping my word count under 800, so I worry that my character is lacking development.
3. Are my mc's actions believable? I was initally concerned that my mc needed more of a reason why she slept under the stars.

Here is a sample of my piece:

Once upon a time, not long ago, in a town not far from here, there lived a young lady called Sadie.
Sadie had a pet salamander called Simon, and Simon the Salamander had a pet snail called Silver. Sadie, Simon and Silver were the best of friends... and they had a secret they shared with no one.
At night, when the sky turned black and the lights of the city twinkled in the distance, Sadie would climb down from her bed, wake Simon and Silver from their slumber, clamber over the window sill, and slide down the drain pipe. There on the lawn, they would sleep under the thick blanket of stars. Sadie knew it was naughty to climb out the window, but she slept so soundly under starlight.
Sadie loved the stars. She thought they looked like beads on a cosmic thread, sown across the sky. Sadie would close her eyes and imagine floating high above the clouds, soaring through the heavens, guided by the moonlight.
One night, as the world was fast asleep, Sadie lay back on the grass beneath her, Simon and Silver at her side.

Thank you all so much in advance,

#1 - February 18, 2013, 07:39 PM

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Hello! Welcome to the boards! I teach 2nd grade so that would be 8 year olds, give or take. I love the feel of your story. It really has a magical tone to it. You may want to consider getting a list of common words up to 2nd grade and build your story from there. I would also think about your sentence length as well.

I think one of the best things is to get about 10 different early readers from different companies and compare your story to those. Then you can get a nice idea of what's being published and find those common elements.

Hope that helps.
#2 - February 19, 2013, 03:38 AM
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Hi, mbm! Welcome to the blueboards.  :)

I agree with Christy. Your writing has an easy, magical tone that makes it appealing. That is something that probably comes naturally to you.

You are not "off-track." You are beginning, and there is a lot to learn about children's publishing! When I first started, I had trouble figuring out the different levels of books. It took me forever to realize that middle grade books did not mean books for middle schoolers. It's also difficult to figure out what the editors want (in many cases, each editor only publishes a few books each year - out of the thousands and thousands submitted to them), so Christy's suggestion to go to the bookstore is essential advice. Study the picture books and easy readers and chapter books that have recently hit the shelves; that is the best way to see what publishers are buying and producing.

Good luck!!!
#3 - February 19, 2013, 05:16 AM

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 :welcome mbm! And thank you for filling my morning with a touch of magic!  :star2 :star2 :star2 :star2 :star2 :star2 Your work has such a magical and lyrical quality to it. Leaves me wanting more!

I absolutely agree with the advice already given. I think this would lean to the younger side of 6-8, of course it also depends a lot on format and length. :goodluck
#4 - February 19, 2013, 07:06 AM

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Hi Meredith, I just wanted to extend a warm welcome! And you've come to a wonderful place of learning. You didn't ask for advice, so I hope you don't mind that I share one tip. Reading tons (TONS!) of picture books--especially recently published ones--will really help you get a feel for writing pbs. I even type out the text of my favorites in order to get a feel of the rhythm and pacing, and especially the page turns. Good luck!
#5 - February 19, 2013, 07:37 AM
LOUD LULA, Two Lions 2015

I agree with the previous posters as well. You have a wonderful voice! I am a little put off by the number of s words, and this story doesn't feel like it should be restrained to picture book lengths (just my humble opinion, that). But you're just starting out. Research, research, research vocabulary boundaries, and read, read, read to get a current feel for the market. This is the sort of story I'd have loved to read with my daughter when she was younger.
#6 - February 19, 2013, 07:45 AM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

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Welcome Meredith!

All of the previous posts have valuable tips.  I even do what Katy does sometimes and type out the texts to my favorite picture books.  It gives me a sense of sentence length and pacing in a story.

If I were you, I would write out the story first, not worrying about word count or length.  And just know that you're going to have to cut and edit big time.  Picture books these days go young.  Like 6 years old is the maximum age  (at least that's what my agent and editors tell me.)  You're story may end up being more of an easy reader.

Like the others, I think you're off to a beautiful start and it's clear what Sadie loves, but you've spent a big chunk of time on that and there's no goal or obstacles or challenges yet.

Even if you're not an artist - but you do intend to create a picture book - it's a good idea to try to draw out some sketches in layout form.  How many pages would be devoted to Sadie loving to sleep under the stars?  I could imagine one page devoted to Sadie, Simon, and Silver.  Another to show the three sliding down the drain pipe.  Then maybe a two-page spread of the three of them sleeping under the stars and then BOOM - something needs to happen. 

Thinking about layout and page turns can help pace a story.

GOOD LUCK!  I think you're off to a great start!

#7 - February 19, 2013, 08:02 AM

Welcome to the Boards! Like a lot of people have said, I love how you've captured your magical time of night. I really like what I read of it and I think my 5-year old would adore it if I read it to her. I just wanted to add one thing. Always trust your instincts! If you are worried that your character is underdeveloped or that you need more of a reason for her to be outside, go back and revisit it. Maybe something in the back of your mind is screaming that you have another idea that can make it even better.

Also, especially if this is your first book, I would write the story that is on your heart and then edit it to fit word count stuff (though as everyone else said, reading in your genre is critical before and after you write). That way you don't lose the essence of your magical moment before you've captured the full idea. (FYI, this may not be the best advice as it is what I did with my first novel and I created a beast of an editing job for myself, but I offer up the advice because in the process I rediscovered my passion for writing and I haven't stopped a day since and that was years ago. I really think that if I'd worried about, in my case, word count and a proliferation of adverbs, I probably would have gotten frustrated with the technique instead of falling in love with the creative storytelling process. Now I know I'm going to fight my way through multiple rounds of editing, but by then I love my story and I don't mind it as much.)

Best of luck!!  :goodluck As my writing group says almost as our mantra, as soon as you start to write, you are a writer. Believe that, trust yourself, and have fun with it.
#8 - February 19, 2013, 08:55 AM


 I just want to say a big thank you to all of you who took the time to read my piece and offer me your advice. I think you are all spot on in suggesting I need to read more widely in the pb genre and seek out 2011 & 2012 releases. I've done a reasonable amount of reading but I'm probably a little biased toward the stories that I loved (circa late 80s- early 90s!)

I have a quick question re: word count and genre I suppose:

If I were to take Ninja and Adia's advice and consider extending this to an easy reader, what is the format of those?

Are they the mini chapter books, with 2-3 pages per chapter (maybe 500 words per chapter?) What sort of word count would you be looking at? And what is the age of the reader for these? I have much more of a story to develop (I already cut and cut with the above sample), so maybe a Pb is unrealistic.

Thank you all so much! My writing experience is in fashion writing, social studies curriculum content development and writing for my education blog, so it has been a nice process tapping into that childlike imagination we all have in our bellies!

All the best,

#9 - February 19, 2013, 09:18 AM

I don't think you have a typical chapter book there, but you might want to look at THE NIGHT FAIRY by Laura Amy Schlitz and CATWINGS by Ursula K. Le Guin.
#10 - February 19, 2013, 09:55 AM
more at


Thank you Mara :)
#11 - February 19, 2013, 10:08 AM

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First, let me say that the way you're approaching this bodes well for your future writing career. I've found that people who get lots of feedback, learn the business, and don't rush into sending their first efforts out do well in the long run.

I haven't read your ms. but if you want to turn it into an easy reader, you need to study what each publisher is publishing in that genre. Each individual publisher has different rules and standards. Go to a bookstore and look at some of the main publishers (Random House, HarperCollins, etc.) and see how many levels the publisher has for its readers. Note the length of the chapters (if there are chapters) and the number of new vocabulary words for each level. Get a general idea of where your book might fit. I'm sure there's a list for each publisher somewhere, but I don't have it. Publishers have very exact standards for easy readers--they're not easy to write.
#12 - February 19, 2013, 10:18 AM


Thanks Betsy, that's great advice :)
#13 - February 19, 2013, 11:18 AM

"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

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Hey, mbm. Welcome to the boards! :) To answer one of your questions, easy-to-reads are much more restrictive in word choice and sentence length than picture books. Here is a good place to start--just paste your text in here, and it will give you an estimated grade level:

I agree with Mara -- look at the short MG fiction she mentioned or books like STONE FOX and SARAH PLAIN AND TALL
#15 - February 19, 2013, 12:57 PM
« Last Edit: February 19, 2013, 02:43 PM by Auntybooks »


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