When I wrote Chicken Wants a Nap, I was exhausted myself.
I was going to grad school full time and working part-time, and the thing I wanted to do most was sleep! So for that day’s assignment, I wrote the story of a chicken who desperately wanted a nap, but was constantly thwarted by the rest of the barnyard. A few years after graduation, my tale of a chicken’s (and really, my own) desire for a nap will be published as my debut picture book!
Now, as a Literary Agent, I’m constantly looking for picture books with child appeal – and so are the editors I submit to.
You might be saying, “But Tracy, kids don’t like naps! Where is the child appeal?” And while that may be true for some kids, all kids are familiar with the concept. And they can certainly identify with being continually thwarted as they try to do something. So even if they don’t like naps, they can still empathize with Chicken emotionally.
So if you’re hearing from agents, editors or your critique group that they’re concerned about the child appeal in your manuscript, see if some of these questions can help you revise:
- How can I take something a child is familiar with, and flip it?
- What emotional want or need is there that a child can identify with?
- Are there concepts being explored (e.g. proper etiquette for wedding invites, going to prom, etc.) that would be outside of a child reader’s experience or interest?
- Am I showing the child a concept they know in a new, exciting way that will want to make them re-read this book?
- Is my humor child-appropriate? Does the reader need background knowledge they might not have before they can get the joke? (e.g. Say you want to tell a child the joke, “What do you call a fish with no eyes?” A: “Fshhhhhhh!” In order for it to be funny to them, they first need to know how to spell ‘fish’.)
- Is my language appropriate for the intended audience? (Am I using picture book language?)
One more common pitfall…
In my submission box, I generally see a few picture books that star adults. It’s extremely rare to see a published fiction picture book with an adult protagonist in today’s market. This is not only because children can identify more closely with children, but because picture books are supposed to help empower a child with a sense of agency.
Hope that helps, and happy writing! (And napping!)
This post was originally published in support of my upcoming Crit-N-Chat on June 27th at KidLit College.