What makes a great kids books, why we need to read fiction, & the limits of language

A little while ago, we had a scheduling conflict and Barnabas couldn’t join us for a podcasting session (he had to work or something). But we couldn’t have a snarkless episode, so we asked our good friend Rachel Shaver to join us on the show! Listen in to a rare Barnbas-less episode where we discuss:

  • When can you claim a kids book on Goodreads—or can you at all?
  • Why doesn’t Goodreads give you a “complete” option vs. “read” for audiobooks?
  • Where did we first encounter Wil Wheaton in various media?
  • Is writing a kids books harder than writing other kinds of books?
  • How do you encourage a love of reading with kids?
  • Why do we need to read fiction, given that we work in non-fiction publishing?

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A few of the books we mentioned on this episode

  • [easyazon_link identifier=”1773210300″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”strongarm-20″]The Paperbag Princess[/easyazon_link] by Robert Munsch
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”0763642649″ l\ocale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”strongarm-20″]Guess How Much I Love You[/easyazon_link] by Sam McBrantey
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”0803741715″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”strongarm-20″]The Book With No Pictures[/easyazon_link] by BJ Novak
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”0142403873″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”strongarm-20″]The Gruffalo[/easyazon_link] by Julia Donaldson
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”1484730887″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”strongarm-20″]Mother Bruce[/easyazon_link] by Ryan T. Higgins

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The hardest type of book to write in the world

Dr Seuss Collection

A few years ago, I decided to try something a little different to help me branch out as a writer: I wanted to write a children’s book. Specifically, I wanted to write a children’s book for my wife to draw (because she’s great at these things). We batted ideas around for a while, and came up with some basic concepts and a rough plot for one, and I started going to work.

And then I stopped. And then started again. Then stopped again. Then I wrote a documentary instead.

But, hey, that counts. It was something different.

. . .

I was discussing writing another book with a friend last night. It’s something I want to do, obviously, and have been working toward. But that conversation brought me back to this idea of a children’s book. So I went back and re-read what I had done so far (I’d gotten a little more than halfway through it). And honestly, it wasn’t bad as a starting point. It meandered a bit, but it could have some potential if it were tightened up, and were a little more openly goofy instead of subtle.

Y’know, and finished.

As I read it, though, and then later spoke with Emily, I started thinking about some of the kids’ books I adore. Books like Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series,[1. No, that’s not a typo on “Piggie”.] or Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, or… well, anything by Mo Willems, really. But Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel and Chester books, Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola books, pretty much anything by Robert Munsch

The more I think about these, the more I realize children’s books—specifically those geared toward kids between the ages of four and nine—have got to be the hardest in the world to write! Think about it: these books have to be clear enough in their writing for kids to understand, but they also have to tell a compelling story. They need to have actual plots.[2. I’ve read way too many that don’t.] They generally have to be pretty clever (at least, many of my favorites embrace a more absurdist style of humor). And they have to connect with the parents who have to read them, too!

Basically, you need to be a superhero to write a really great kids’ book.

And a superhero I am not.

But I like the challenge. Not of being a superhero, but of writing something really difficult. I like how it forces me to think differently, and that it frees me to be a bit sillier than I normally am in my work. I might never get there, but I want to keep trying. Because who knows? Maybe I’ll find I’ve actually written a fun book at the end—one my kids might actually want to read.

Photo credit: Dr. Seuss collection via photopin (license)