Writing Children's Books for Dummies, by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy (John Wiley and Sons, 2013).
(Thanks all who entered the giveaway--the winner is Anne.)
Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, I hope to have written a children's book--non-fiction, drawing on the archaeology side of my life. I've even taken the plunge and joined the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and will be going to the May New England Conference. So when I was offered a review copy of the newly released revised edition of Writing Children's Books for Dummies, I said "yes, please."
And I found it good--knowledgeable, practical, and helpful.
It's divided into sections that pass from an introduction to the various genres of children's books, into the nuts and bolts of writing (characters, dialogue, setting, etc.), then moving on to editing, and finally tackling the mysteries of publishing and publicity. Helpful icons in the margins identify especially useful tips and things to remember.
I started out bookmarking every page that had what seemed an especially useful tip, but soon the book had so many pieces of paper sticking out of it that I realized I couldn't share them all. So you'll have to trust me--there are lots of useful tips!
For instance, there's a valuable section entitled "Defend your prose--or let it go" (page 137). If your words aren't moving the plot forward and making the story proceed at a nice pace, or developing a main character, chances are it should go. The section on what makes good dialogue seemed especially spot on, and if I were a teacher of writing to even quite young kids, I might well share it with them! The examples of good and bad dialogue, and why the former works and the later doesn't, are spot on.
I could go on. Short answer--lots and lots of good advice on how to write and publish a children's book.
As an incidental bonus, I found the sections on the mechanics of good writing rather enlightening from my perspective as a reviewer. Jean Kerr, a favorite author of mine was married to a drama critic, and often went to the theater with him--she has a pithy little line that resonates a lot for me:
"The critic says: this is an extremely bad play--why is that? The audience says: This is an extremely bad play--why was I born?" (Penny Candy, page 88)
I myself have trouble getting past the "why was I born" approach, and now feel more able to make informed judgements (look for "the dialogue does not advance either the plot or the characterization" (or, one can hope, the opposite) in future reviews).
It wasn't perfect. For instance, the book examples used in the early section on genres of children's books seem somewhat cobbled together (one obscure book is shown twice, for instance), and the pictures of the books float in isolation with no little line why the books were chosen, or what they illustrate. If I myself were giving a new author lists of books, I wouldn't just offer a list of my own; I'd refer readers to the lists of ALA award books--which, since they are updated every year, would keep current. (I myself would also include the Cybils lists).
The sections on publicity and social marketing are not desperately helpful for authors who wish to get their books reviewed on blogs--I think that a future edition could usefully expand that section, with more on what book review blogs are, and who they reach, with the does and don'ts of how to find bloggers who are a good fit for your book (contrary to the advice given here, the best blogs to approach are not necessarily the ones that get the most traffic), and how to request a blog review.
But still--a very valuable book from which I think every new and aspiring writer of just about any age could learn lots.
Courtesy of the authors, I'm hosting a giveaway of Writing Children's Books For Dummies. (International entries welcome!). Just leave a comment by midnight EST next Sunday (March 31), with some way to contact you.
If I haven't convinced you that you might well want to enter to win this one, here's another blog review at Ms. Yingling Reads--she called it "an indispensable tool for writers."
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher at the authors' request.