Popsicle Sticks & Writing for Children

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Each month at 100 Story Building we invite an author, editor, publisher or other wordy-expert to run an exclusive one-day writing workshop open to the public. These workshops support our daily and after-school programs for children and young people. On Saturday March 29, publisher Jane Godwin and senior editor Davina Bell from Penguin Books (who are both published authors as well!) will be taking you on a Big 5 safari through writing children’s books. For more information and bookings, head to 100 Story Studio.

This post is by Davina Bell, author and senior editor in the Young Reader’s Division of Penguin Books Australia.

I wrote this picture book on the weekend, and gee whiz, my grandkids love it!

If we had a dollar for every time a manuscript was sent to us accompanied by a version of this, we would be able to fund all the beautiful, heart-tugging, almost-there kids books that don’t quite get published. There’s something about children’s books – and picture books in particular – that inspires a level of self-confidence and swagger in amateur authors and non-authors alike.

The truth is, writing for children is hard. The best in the business sweat and delete and tap and frown and redraft and reconsider to achieve the very illusion that they sat down of a weekend and banged their work out in the time it takes to eat an icy pole. But the reality is that a good children’s book is a cake baked of many things: spark, intuition, sensitivity, effort and craft.

It’s heartening that the realm of children’s literature sparks so many people’s imaginations – that it helps them see the world through the lens of narrative possibility, and that they often sit down at their computers to follow up on that. By immersing ourselves in the genre, by developing an understanding of what does and doesn’t work, we can hone our intuition and develop a sensitivity to the needs and dreams of our audience. As for effort and craft, they go hand in hand. And the cold, hard truth? Even hours of the former don’t necessary equate to the acquisition of the latter.

But take heart! Brave, talented, insightful people have gone before us, providing us with examples and exercises, flagging pitfalls and punching their fists through our chests with work that inspires us to try our own hand. The children who come after us are, as we were, ever hungry to lose themselves in boiling plots and find themselves in well-drawn characters. To be willing to show up and write your way through a whole box of icy poles in pursuit of finding the story that only you can write – that is the first step. And remember: with time and determination, brilliant things can be built from popsicle sticks.

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Davina Bell is a Senior Editor in the Young Reader’s Division of Penguin Books Australia. She is the author of four books of historical fiction for middle readers as part of the Our Australian Girl series, and her first picture book, The Underwater Fancydress Parade, will be published in 2014.