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Classifying Children's Fiction

by Robyn Opie Parnell

Simply put, a book is usually classified as children's fiction if the main character is a child.

Adults usually read about adults. Children usually read about children.

When reading a book, the reader likes to connect with or relate to the main character. A reader likes to identify with the character and even romanticize that they are the hero/heroine. This is why authors spend a lot of time trying to create believable, sympathetic characters.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be Nancy Drew. In fact, I still wouldn't mind being Nancy Drew. She has so many fun adventures.

What is the age of your main character or characters? Let's say they are 14. How many adults do you know who are interested in reading a story about the problems of a 14 year old? None, I'd guess - unless you happen to know a children's author. Therefore the audience for a book about a 14 year old is most likely children between the ages of 10 and 14.

So, a book is children's fiction if the main character is a child and the reading audience is made up of children.

Now, to take this further, children like to read about children solving their own problems.

From an early age, most children seek their independence, in small ways when they are very young to bigger assertions as they mature. If you're a parent you'll know what I mean about children pushing their boundaries. I remember pushing my boundaries. I remember them moving. And I remember them snapping back, like a rubber band. Ouch!

Children rebel against what they perceive as unfair restrictions. They don't want to read about these same restrictions in children's books. Who does? Remember, most people read to escape reality - every day life. The same is true of children.

In children's fiction, children like to read about children solving their own problems with only minor assistance from adults or better still, no assistance from adults. In fact, it is quite common in children's fiction for adults to be absent. A good way to explain these absences is having parents go off to work. At the very least, adults are kept in the background. They are minor characters. When writing for children you need to consider the roles of parents, keep them realistic, but unobtrusive.

For example, I am currently writing a novel about two brothers who solve a crime. Their father is dead. He died in a car accident. Their mother is a nurse who is working night shift. She is gone at night and sleeps during the day. This allows the boys to discover the crime and expose the criminals, thus enabling the police to catch them.

In reality, the boys cannot catch the criminals and take them to prison but they can discover the identities of the criminals and make it possible for the police to catch them. The adult assistance is minimal, therefore satisfying the young reader, and the boys have an adventure that fits within the realms of credibility.

It isn't always easy when writing for children to find a way for main characters to solve their own problems with a minimum of adult interference. The answer isn't always obvious. But you need to construct the plot so that this is possible and the solution must seem plausible given the limited experience and restrictions of your target audience. If you can't find a way for your main character to solve their problem then move on to another story. You can always go back to the other one
later.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a specialist children's publisher about this very subject. They rejected my story because the main character hadn't solved her problem. It had happened by accident.

There's another reason why the main character needs to solve their problem; our main character is supposed to learn and grow from his/her experiences. This is part of the satisfaction a reader gains from reading your children's book. If the main character doesn't solve their problem then how do they learn and grow?

The subject matter of a children's book must be something that children can relate to given their limited experience. Your story must be interesting to a child.

Copyright Robyn Opie Parnell. All Rights Reserved.

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