It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster in our house recently. A cocktail of good and bad news that has made me retreat to pen and paper, rather than the computer. I don’t know why this is, but at times of stress I find comfort in writing stories. This time, I decided to have a go at writing a children’s picture book. I know, stereotypical or what. A Mum, currently out of work on maternity leave, thinking she knows more than the experts. (Of which I don’t, clearly.) However, to say I have read hundreds of children’s books would be an understatement. Three kids, a beanstalk volunteer and an SEN teaching assistant in schools, children’s books are kind of my thing and I thought I knew what works.
But writing one?
Idols such as Michael Rosen, Oliver Jeffers, Rob Biddulph and Nick Sharratt are more than children’s story writers. They are poets, philosophers, illustrators, educators and comics. They take children out of the real world and make their imaginations come alive, sometimes for the very first time. I knew therefore, that I was up against it, but I didn’t see why I couldn’t give it a go. What I didn’t predict was my daughter’s reaction.
I wrote it for her, for her 6th birthday. This means that the book with be read by no more than two people, so clearly the pressure is off, but it is still a tricky task! I wanted to use language that she could understand, but not make it too easy. I didn’t want to feel like I was talking down to her. I did, however, want to teach her something, but not preach at her. Easy? Pah.
Firstly, I did find it a really fun experience and I fully recommend you having a go. I could be a bit cheeky, a bit silly and play with words that really shouldn’t be brought together. The characters could also be anything, anyone, real or not. There is a freedom in that, that I really enjoyed.
However, getting down to the nitty gritty is tough. Have a think about your favourite bedtime story, and you will understand how many layers it has. It has something not only for the child, but also you, the parent who has probably read the book a fair few times. It has to stand the test of time yet always give the child something to look forward to.
I thought I had managed all this quite well. I even got it to rhyme, and was quite proud that I had managed to not make it too complicated and worthy. Her reaction? I think I was hoping she would marvel at my skill, be amazed at my originality and tell all her friends how talented I was. I can tell you that absolutely didn’t happen. Surprisingly my older daughter loved it, and was inspired to write her own, but the birthday girl? On the first (and only) reading she burst into tears. And why? Although I had made her the heroine of the story, her character appears last, after her sister’s and new baby brothers. She wasn’t interested that I had made up the story, had hand written it for her until 1am for the past week. Illustrated it, wrapped it and presented it to her. Nope, she was just mightily annoyed that ‘she’ appeared last.
Kids. Unpredictable to the core. You never can tell how they are going to react, which is why being an author of children’s books is such a tough job. It won’t deter me to have another go, but from now on, writers, I salute you all.