Sunday, 19 May 2019


Penguin might have made a good profit from their Ladybird Books For Grown Ups series, but from where I sit in the bookshop cafe, chewing my pencil, the requirements surrounding real writing for young readers look quite daunting.  

The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness

"Wait a moment, you grumbling grump!" calls a voice. (Is it Peter? Is it Jane?) "Surely it is a simple enough task? Just dream up any old idea. Besides, you'll only need three hundred words or so, which means it will be delightfully easy for anyone calling themselves a writer." 

Let's go . . .  and as the dreamy face of Inspiration wakes from its sleep, Commonsense - its rather brisker sister - starts to determine which tales are possible and which way the story can be told, we can begin . . .

For, yes, dear writer, it is time to come up with an idea that:

- Reflects the complexity of modern family life yet retains the charm of simple family relationships.

- Uses a setting that modern children can recognise and an activity that modern children can understand.

- Does not show children in physically risky situations or doing or using anything dangerous.

- Nor show a child obviously alone meanwhile excluding all (possibly strange) solitary adults.

- And is yet a story that is a rich, surprisingly exciting and compelling experience. 

Got that?

The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness

Moreover a story that:

- Represents male and female characters equally, unless anthropomorphic.

- Is best told through fantasy and/or anthropomorphic animal characters, as these are saleable world wide.

- Places animal characters within a vegetarian world; if polar animals are used, avoid mention of climate-change.

- Makes sure that crocodiles, wolves, alligators, lions, tigers, bad bears and other carnivores can never ever win, unless created by illustrator Emily Gravett. 

Or fairly similar.
The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness

And all this while remembering: 

- If drawing from the World-Wide Sea of Stories, be wary of cultures not your own and also any purely religious festivals. Christmas may be permissible.

- To avoid bathrooms, loos, bodily functions and vocabulary, although these will be exuberantly permissible and profitable within chapter books aimed at boys a couple of years older.

- To never use cakes and sweet treats or unhealthy food as "rewards" in the plot, nor suggest anyone is fat except - perhaps - grandmothers, hippos and elephants.

- To use generic rather than particular words to describe the natural world: flowers and plants rather than buttercups and daisies, trees rather than willows, birds rather than blackbirds. Too rich a vocabulary might be confusing. 

- And a few additional "suggestions" which I may well have misremembered. Or not.

Great! And Is your imagination racing by now? 
Are you all tuned up now and ready to write?

And don't forget to set your now-dramatic and enticing storyline out across a set number of spreads, with suggestions for art-work too.

 Simple. Just put your mind to it, all right? A little child could do it. :-)

The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness
  Happy writing, everyone!

 Penny Dolan



Susan Price said...

Made me laugh like a drain, Penny! So true.

And writing factual books for children is just as easy, isn't it? World history or history of science? A doddle. Just so long as you don't mention any religion, or any kind of weapon or sharpened object, or pigs, or anybody ever thinking even for a moment that they were superior to anyone else...

Enid Richemont said...

Too painfully accurate to be funny, Penny. Oh, and the 'easy' bit - a children's book is just something you can knock off between filming your very lucrative and successful TV series, and you don't even have to write it.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Penny, you have hit on the very reason why I write for older children - much easier than picture books or chapter books(though I’ve done a few chapter books too). But non writers haven’t a clue, just as non librarians think you spend all day reading or putting books on the shelves.

Susan, indeed! I’ve written non fiction for entertainment for kids, and my history of crime in Australia had to be very carefully written, so as not to scare them, while looking after the ones who loved over the top stuff. In recent months, I was told - twice! - not to mention this book as a large percentage of kids had fathers in jail or awaiting trial. (One school did let me talk about two of the historical chapters set in the 19th century). I do understand this - just saying you have to be very, very careful.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for your comments, Sue, Enid and Sue. Non-fiction sounds even worse!

Moira Butterfield said...

Bonkers, isn't it! And yet there's plenty of jeopardy allowed in TV and computer material for kids. It makes it all much livelier.

Susan Price said...

Sue B -- thanks for the warning about writing Crime History!

Penny Dolan said...

Moira, that's a good point and certainly how it feels.

Lynne Benton said...

Oh Penny, how very true! I spent yesterday doing the very same thing!