An edited-down version of this ran in Al Masry Al Youm, but I can’t find the Arabic text at the moment. For now, the wonderful English-language writing tips from Farhana creator Rania Hussein Amin.
If you want to start writing children’s book:
1. Think about WHY you want to write children’s book. If the answer is “to guide children” or “give them good advice”, then you should think twice. If the answer is “because I want to share with them some good stories” then go ahead. Children need their books to be their friend, someone they can identify with and relate to. They need to feel that the character in the book is a character like themselves, with good sides and bad sides too. They don’t want him to be ideal. And they certainly don’t want to listen to preaches and advice. Two parents are more than enough.
2. Go back in memory and get in touch with your feelings as a child. You will find that some of the strongest memories that left a great impact of you, might have been minor events but events that released very strong emotions. Use these memories in writing your story. The feelings will most probably be transmitted to, and strongly felt by the reader.
3. Don’t start out by thinking: “what should my message be to the child?” No, start by creating a good story, then, while writing your story try to figure out whether the message you’re sending is clear enough, if not, you can work on it in a very indirect and subtle way. Make sure the reader will not get the feeling that you are writing this story because you have a message, instead he should feel that you’re writing this story because you are his friend and you want to share it with him.
4. Go back in your memory and think about the characters you enjoyed reading about. Were they perfect? Were they naughty? Think about it.
5. Sit with children and tell them stories or read from books, and try to find out what catches their attention most, and which parts bore them.
6. Keep in mind that times are changing. Children nowadays are used to fast pace, and will not tolerate slow-paced stories with many descriptions. Use more dialogues, and make sure that every now and then you strongly catch the attention of the child.
7. Illustrations in children’s books are as important as the text. Don’t put up with just any illustrator. If you know a good one, ask him to illustrate at least two pages for you before going to a publisher. Work with the illustrator until both of you are completely satisfied. If you do not know of a good illustrator you can leave this up to he publisher, but you have to approve of their choice, because it’s YOUR book after all. You have to be in direct contact with the illustrator to guarantee good results.
8. In Egypt, most people who buy books for children, are parents of English speaking children who, most probably would prefer to buy books in English (because of several reasons I will not go through now), but we, as writers, have to be up to this challenge and this comparison. We absolutely HAVE to read as many foreign books as possible, to know what’s out there, because style and quality are changing and improving so fast, that we have to make an effort to keep up with it.
9. We should definitely not be influenced by Western literature in our writings because our culture is different, but at the same time we must not allow our culture to limit us, or to force taboos. Write freely and offer the child different, maybe even shocking ideas. The child needs to be challenged, and is attracted to new, rebellious ideas. He has enough of the familiar stuff around him.
10. Finally, if you’re confident about your story, keep fighting until you see it published. Don’t loose hope after a first refusal by a publisher. He might have his own reasons that could be completely unrelated to your story. But always try to find out why your story was unaccepted. IF it was. Because they might have a good reason and some good advice that might help you when sending your story to the next publisher.
And good luck. 🙂