I realise this is a lofty claim to make, particularly coming from a person who is yet to be published. However, I feel like I have read, and attempted to write, enough of ’em to have cracked ‘The Formula’, the unbeatable equation that will lead inexorably to the creation of the Perfect Children’s Book.
Without any further ado, I’ll begin. If you don’t have your notepad and pen ready yet, that’s not my fault – you had enough warning.
Okay? Time’s up! Off into the misty heights of fame, fortune and National Treasure-ship we go.
1. Have your protagonist (always cute, always blonde, always blue-eyed) be wonderful, right from the beginning.
Nobody wants to read about troublesome tykes, right? Smart-mouthed or cheeky children shouldn’t even exist in reality, let alone in fiction. The only way to write the perfect children’s book is to write it – obviously – about the perfect child. Usually this will be a boy (sorry, girls), but if you must write about a girl then at least make sure she wears a dress and that she keeps her socks clean. You know you’re onto a winner if the protagonist of your book is a paragon of virtue and duty right from page 1, and doesn’t change at all – not even slightly – by the end of the story. We don’t want to give children ideas about bad behaviour, redemption, character development or maturation, of course – if they read about perfect little children in their perfect little books, it’s only logical that they’ll start to emulate this appropriate behaviour immediately. Win-win.
2. Don’t give your readers any ideas. About anything.
Right. Well, there’s a lot packed into this point. By ‘ideas’, of course, I mean ‘Ideas’ with a capital ‘I’, ones that encompass the world and the universe and the concepts of selfhood and identity that should, naturally enough, have no place in a book for anyone under the age of thirty. I also mean ideas about naughty and/or dangerous things that an ambitious reader might try to recreate in their own life – so raft-building, adventures across rooftops, placing mysterious keys into even more mysterious locks, battling your way through old fur coats to get to the back of a wardrobe, and/or accepting dangerous-sounding invitations from tall old men with long beards and a distinctly wizardy look about them are all out the window. We want books that are going to keep their readers quiet, calm and – best of all – obedient. Don’t we? Yes, we do.
3. Children’s minds are weak, and so shouldn’t be over-taxed; do their thinking for them.
Imagine this, if you can: a children’s book wherein the protagonist must solve a mystery. A mystery whose resolution is not obvious from the beginning. A mystery which even an adult – horrors! – would find challenging.
This, clearly, is a scenario which should be avoided if you’re attempting to write the perfect children’s book.
Children’s brains are delicate things, and are liable to stretch completely out of shape if too much is put into them too quickly. Things like mysteries, requiring logical (and, even more heinously, critical) thinking, are just too much for them to deal with. The perfect children’s book will hand them everything they need on a plate, carefully and concisely explained to them by another character in the story (invariably an adult), and they will be encouraged to think of themselves as terribly clever if they understand even a fraction of this explanation. Think of it like helping them to eat by pre-chewing their food for them. Who wouldn’t like their steak and onions slightly digested before they begin eating them, eh?
Anyway. Moving swiftly on.
4. Adults, in the Perfect Children’s Book, are always right.
This one hardly needs elaboration, does it? Let’s mirror what we’d like to see in reality in the fiction we’re lovingly stuffing down the throats of our young people. Write no adult who is not kind, but grave; wise, but patient; twinkly-eyed, but an arbiter of absolute justice; stern, but fair. No child character shall be permitted to talk back to, question, or contradict an adult – there will simply be no need for it, of course. Occasionally one may show an adult character who falls short of the ideal (a drunkard, maybe, or an elderly spinster) so long as they learn the error of their ways and reform by the end of the story – ideally through the actions of the child protagonist.
5. All parents in the Perfect Children’s Book shall form happily married couples.
None of this single-parent family nonsense, or what have you. Everyone knows that the non-nuclear family is merely a scaremongering tactic cooked up by the dangerous, leftie-liberal media. Every child protagonist should have a Mummy (who likes to bake, and whose hair is never less than immaculate, and who loves nothing more than to keep her house gleaming) and a Daddy (who has an important job somewhere far enough away to mean he comes home tired – but not too tired to play! – every day, and who carries a briefcase, and who always smells just slightly of cigar smoke and aftershave); depending on the social class of your protagonist, you may also add servants, as required. Parents should be present for every important plot event in your Perfect Children’s Book; this fad for having them ‘disappear’, so the child can get on with whatever they want to do, is a dangerous one, and should be stamped out immediately.
6. All endings shall be happy.
The Perfect Children’s Book should contain no death, and no serious injury. Your protagonist should never be placed in a situation where they are in danger, and they should be allowed to suffer no greater injury than – perhaps – a splinter in their finger, which shall be swiftly attended to by a kindly (female) adult. All endings to stories should have a Message, which is hammered home quite clearly – perhaps with the aid of an explanatory piece of verse, or maybe a jolly sing-song between the child and his/her stuffed toys, or similar – and things like grief, sorrow, loss, self-sacrifice and fear should be kept as far away from your story as possible. Every book should end with all significant characters restored to their rightful place, all ‘baddies’ turned over to the appropriate authorities, and the child protagonist at home in time for a warm supper, a hot bath, and bed.
This one is non-negotiable.
That’s about all I have time for here. Simple, isn’t it? It should be. Writing children’s books takes no effort, after all – just about anyone can knock one out over a weekend, or slap one together if they’ve nothing better to do. It’s amazing we’re not all doing it! I hope you’ll follow these guidelines, and that success will soon be knocking at your door.
Oh, but just one more thing: when your children’s book is published, and goes super-stellar overnight (as, of course, all Perfect Children’s Books do), I’ll be around to claim a small – and entirely appropriate – percentage of the royalties in return for the invaluable pointers I’ve provided here. You won’t even miss my fee out of your giant stack of money, though, so don’t worry.
*Don’t worry about that muffled whacking noise you’re probably hearing. It’s just my head, meeting the wall in quite an enthusiastic way.