Making Children's Books Fun
By Barbara Beard
Barbara Beard is a school teacher, and the author of a fantastically fun picture book, Too Much Broccoli. Making reading fun for kids can be a complicated task! Today, she joins us on the blog to give tips for both authors and parents to help get kids reading.
Looking back on my time as a student, I remember how often I would hear a teacher set forth an idea that made me think “wow”— I never thought of that before! I found such moments were fascinating and helped me to love school. (I guess that makes me a true nerd!) One of the concepts I learned then was how to approach problems e.g. one small step at a time. How simple! I’ve since found that seeing things this way helps reduce the stress of accomplishing complex tasks. When I write I approach the story as a series of steps that all together make the book.
Part One: Fun Stories that Work (for writers)
Why I started out with this mention of problem-solving is to broach the topics of reading, writing and fun. First, when you write, do it as a series of steps. Make it interesting and fun. I think the best gift we can give our kids when they start out learning to read is to make it enjoyable. If the story we are writing has that “spoonful of sugar”, then the reading of the story will be more fun. In order to do this as a writer, go a little crazy with your ideas and think outside the box. When I wrote my picture book, Too Much Broccoli, I got the idea of hair growing to the floor, thick and green, as I was brushing my daughter’s wild curly locks one morning. This story came to me more-or-less intact. I thought, “What if a character ate 10 platefuls of broccoli? What if it made her hair turn green?”
Getting ideas from life is one aspect of writing. Draw on things you remember, like having a pet or going to a cottage. You especially should write about what you know because that rings true and opens up all kinds of ideas for stories. The grandmother in my book always had good ideas in the very way my own mother did.
You can jot down notes to yourself when you think of something that might lend itself to a story. Keep a journal of ideas—this way you won’t forget something that might be woven into your writing later. (I have been annoyed several times when I “lost” an idea because I didn’t write it down immediately.)
Another idea for creating a new fiction picture book is to do “variations on a theme”. For example, we are all familiar with the story of the three little pigs. Revisit that book and think how it might be altered. Perhaps instead of the dangers of the wolf, it’s three turkeys worrying about Thanksgiving dinner? Play with ideas. Brainstorm around a topic. Be creative. Don’t forget about the library and book store—Read lots of books for inspiration.
One way of making stories that are fun is to make them suitable for repetition when read out loud e.g. the children chant lines back to you. In Too Much Broccoli the line, “Because everyone knows broccoli is good for you,” is repeated several times. This is fun and gets the children involved. You can also read your story out loud to yourself during the writing process to catch grammatical or syntactical errors. Don’t just ask family for their ideas. (Their opinions are lovely but biased.) Instead ask a friend (or writer friend) for their input.
Finally, let your story gel. Always leave a day or so before submitting your manuscript in order not to miss things you should change. I’ll leave a day or so before I send this blog off.
Part Two: Learning to Read is a Step-by-Step Thing (for parents)
When children are learning to read, a bedtime routine is helpful. Set aside a half-hour. Let your child read to you. The library is a treasure chest of many things, including levelled readers. Choose lots of books that you think would be appropriate for your child. Get them to read for 15 minutes out loud. Then you read for 15 minutes. You can start with a children’s Bible. These come in various levels of difficulty. You can get board book versions, picture books, and chapter books. Then read a picture book (or chapter book if appropriate). Judge what your child is ready for and go for it. Reading together is so helpful. It expands vocabulary and helps children get a sense of the flow of language. It is also nice “together time” to build memories. Read together every day even when you’re tired.
Once your child is reading fluently enough, encourage him/her to like reading. What worked with my daughter was that one summer afternoon I said to her, “When you get into Grade 2 this fall you have silent reading every day. Let’s practise.” So we both sat down after lunch and we read for 15 minutes. After 2 days of this Sarah just kept reading after the 15 minutes were up. And that was it! She became an avid reader; she was hooked. This may all sound silly, but it worked for us. Figure out what will work for you.
You can use stickers to reward reading. After 10 stickers, or more, give a bigger prize like a trip to the dollar store, a freezie, stuffed toy, or something else your child would like.
All in all, remember the child you were, and write and read accordingly. Learning to read and learning to write are both step-by-step processes. Be fun and interesting and you can’t go wrong!
About this Contributor:
Barbara Beard writes for children, hoping to encourage a love of reading through humour. Barbara lives in Pickering with her husband Kim, daughter Sarah, Grandpa, and Mugsie, the Shih Tzu.