1. IT ALL STARTS WITH THE STORY
Start with a story that you want to tell. Make it larger than life or base it on your personal experiences or something you’ve read. It may come from your fantastic imagination but the common thread is that it is a story you feel must be told. I wrote The Cat That Changed Americaafter reading about a mountain lion who lives in the middle of Griffith Park in Los Angeles, the second most populated city in the US. His name is P22 and he became famous after allegedly breaking into LA zoo and eating a koala. That seemed like a great premise for a book and raised all sorts of questions like how did this big cat arrive there and what would happen to him once he settled?
2. HAVE A DISTINCTIVE VOICE
Having a distinctive voice that immediately hooks the reader is essential for young audiences. The ability to transport the reader to a faraway land, a unique situation or a into the mind of a compelling character, are all essential ingredients for a great children’s book. This in turn should lead to a well- constructed storyline and leave plenty of opportunity for imagination to play a part in the interpretation and understanding of events for younger readers.
3. USE HUMOUR
Kids love humour, so I sprinkle my dialogue with jokes and endearing characters with quirky traits. InThe Cat That Changed Americathe animals all have their fun own personalities, with a story that has some real heart and humour, which youngsters can relate to and engage with. Appeal to your reader’s sense of fun and mischief, with suspenseful situations, dilemmas and situations that the kids will want to talk about. When P22 embarks on his perilous journey in search of a new home, even though the dangers are real, I balance them with humour, through some of the characters and situations that the big cat encounters.
4. HAVE TALKING POINTS
Young Minds love to discuss, enquire and debate. They are finding out about the world and want to form their own opinions about everything around them. The Cat That Changed Americahas many talking points about conservation issues, pest control and habitat loss. These are layered into the story allowing the readers to find and discover the themes themselves without being heavy handed in the approach. Include topics in your story that your readers want to discuss whether it’s to do with family, friends, the community or global issues.
5. CELEBRATE DIVERSITY
Diversity isn’t just a trendy buzzword and zeitgeist. It is essential for the fabric that makes us human. We should celebrate our diversity and all that makes us unique. In The Cat That Changed AmericaI show the differences between the two young mountain lion cubs; one wants to stay at home, the other is eager to leave his den and explore. Children develop at their own pace and there are lifelong lessons to be learned from the story, which readers will want to reflect on. Today especially not all families are conventional and it is important to emphasise the differences that your child will encounter at school.
6. PLOT TWISTS AND TURNS
Twist and turns are what keep young readers turning pages. Do the unexpected in your writing and avoid stereotypes and clichés. I based my children’s book on a true story, but I also looked for unexpected ways to tell that story by using imagination and larger than life moments. For example, what would happen if P22 slept under the carousel in Griffith Park or what if he encountered an animal that he had never seen before?
7. FOLLOW UP
Give your young readers something to think about and follow up. Encourage them in your writing to do further reading or engage in activities for fun or learning. In The Cat That Changed Americathere are many topics and avenues to explore for curious young minds, such as how to film wild animals with camera traps and investigate the terrible effects that rat poison has on creatures higher up the food chain. I also give extra reading and follow up links in Appendices at the end of the book, which encourage kids for further research.
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