In honor of spring, Dear Daughter baked a new batch of cupcakes. Unlike her Christmas polar bears and her Halloween rats, DD’s beautiful bouquet was unnervingly simple. She completed the entire dozen flowers in the time it took her to decorate one rodent.
Simple, yet elegant. Elaborate, yet easy.
This KISS method is exactly what children’s writers need to keep in mind when penning tales for young readers.
Up until about fifth grade, kids are learning to read. Once they hit middle school, they read to learn. As writers for young children, we need to fulfill all the requirements of a great storytelling, while keeping the writing itself simple enough for high comprehension.
KISS: Keep it simple, Scribe.
CAT’S KISS METHOD
K is for KEEPING: While short on words, writers need to keep all the key components of a great story–robust characters, engaging plot lines and a resolution to conflict. This often translates into fewer characters for kids to get to know and keep straight. It also means a simpler story arc with fewer subplots.
I is for INTEREST: Young minds need to stay engaged. As writers, we can do this by tapping into a child’s natural creativity and imagination. The details we provide must be selective–just enough to provide a solid background, but not so much that kids can’t fill in the blanks themselves. Pick one adjective to describe the dog instead of four. Use strong verbs that show emotion and physical movement rather than resorting to an entire paragraph of telling. In other words, declutter manuscripts by omitting extra words and use only those that initiate thinking on the reader’s behalf.
S is for SHORT: Short sentences help beginning and struggling readers keep facts straight. Remember, youngsters are still learning to read fluently at this age. The front half of long sentences can easily be forgotten by the time kids reach the punctuation at the end. Shoot for an average of roughly ten words per sentence for young readers. This is easily done if details are kept to a minimum and strong verbs are used.
S is for SOUND: In the early elementary years, children read out loud. Even in the next stage, kids “hear” the words in their minds as they read to themselves. Odd phrasing literally sounds funny, while redundant sentences–subject, predicate, subject, predicate–sound choppy. Stilted dialogue doesn’t roll off the tongue and quickly becomes tiresome. By varying sentence structure and length, using simple conjunctions and maximizing the robust English language, writers can pen engaging sentences that flow.
Young readers, more than any other age group, deserve great storytelling. This key time in their lives often determines if they will turn to books or some other activity to fulfill their entertainment needs. Boring, formulaic writing doesn’t engage busy minds. Likewise, elaborate writing that is hard to decipher can turn a young reader away from books altogether.
Books for kids must appear elaborate, while maintaining enough simplicity that readers can stay engaged without struggling.