(Pt. 6) What I love about children’s books: Storytelling

It’s Children’s Book Week!

In honor of the annual national literacy initiative hosted by Every Child a Reader and sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, I will be sharing a series of the seven elements I love about children’s books. One element will be featured each day through Sunday, continuing with …

STORYTELLING

As both a writer and a reader, storytelling is one of the elements that stands out most to me.

Those who think writing a children’s book is easy — particularly books for younger children that consist of 30 or fewer pages — probably has little to no experience with writing kid lit. Crafting children’s literature is an art that relies on clever use of language, awareness of age-level vocabulary, the imagination to dream up a story children will relate to and love, and the ability to tell a story beyond words.

That last bit is one of the parts that intrigues me the most.

About a month ago, I watched a recorded lecture about children’s literature. The professor told the class about a children’s book in which a hen goes for a walk. To read the book aloud sounds a bit boring. Each page simply tells where the hen walks. She walks around the pond. She jumps over the fence. She walks through the barn. She walks under a tree.

And so on. Simple, straightforward. No conflict. No tension. No story at all, really.

But when you look at the book, it becomes more than a hen’s itinerary. Each illustration shows the hen walking around the pond, or over the fence, or through the barn … with a fox hunting her the entire way. Suddenly there’s an antagonist. There’s danger.

There’s a story.

It’s not just artwork that makes children’s books amazing stories, though. Take B.J. Novak’s THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES as an example. As the title suggests, the book has no pictures. But as children read, they are encouraged to get involved by reading loudly or softly, making silly noises, or saying preposterous things. (Yes, the word preposterous is in the book.) Children themselves become part of the story experience.

Children’s literature is a playground of storytelling. It’s full of experimentation, multiple media (from pop-ups to interactive e-books to texture books to picture books to books without pictures).

The stories also tend to teach lessons. Whether it’s a Sesame Street book about Big Bird learning to count or a story about a character learning empathy, the stories can be a child’s earliest introduction to being a good member of society. Books can teach ethics and responsibility through endearing characters and entertaining plots.

There’s a lot to love about that.

Read the series to date:

 

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