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
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
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
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
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.