Monday, February 12, 2018

Never Lie to Them

by Peter Leavell @peterleavell

The five hardest things I’ve done in life are as follows:

1. College Math Theory
2. Algebra 1
3. Ask my wife to marry me (worried she would say no)
4. Prealgebra.
5. Write a middle grade reader.

6. Counting past 5.

Like math, writing for kids is a different language. As was asking my wife to marry me.

Normally, I write historical fiction. After studying kids books for two years, here’s a few lessons Ken Raney and I learned when we wrote Dino Hunters: Discovery in the Desert.

—Kids need the plot to MOVE! Action, conflict, fix something. Grownups talk. Kids act.

—How long does a child take to make a decision? Either the time it takes to read a short sentence or the time it takes for them to read War and Peace in Russian. They might be stumped for a bit, but of the hundreds of decisions in a day they need to make, kids think and act fast. Thinking in long, drawn-out scenes isn't realistic. Keep decision making short and use a single sentence of decision that is powerful, direct, and logical.

—Problem solving in books is similar to how they solve problems in real life. Bad guys are charging! Duck! Run! Fight! Homework assigned! Duck! Run! Fight! Their world is not divided. Their world is a whole. At that age we haven’t quite learned to leave work at work. If something works in one setting, many times, they will try it again. If saying a swear word works at school, might as well try it at home. Yowza!

—Normalize their feelings and they will see the characters as friends, so that they say, ‘you too? I thought I was the only one!’

—Boys and girls love mystery. Who is stealing the pie? But if they find out who is the thief, the main character MUST be the main reason the culprit is caught. Few things are more irritating than reading an entire book and find out the pie is stolen by a dog and everyone just laughs. What's the point of telling the story if the characters aren't making changes in the story?

—Twelve-year-old boys don’t believe the bad guy. Bad guys lie. The truth of the plot must come from the good guys. Studies showed boys didn't believe Vader was Luke's father until the words came from Yoda's lips in Return of the Jedi.

—Children have emotions, deep emotions. But boys and girls are taught to hold them inside, and if they let them out, they’re told to be more adult. So, they find solace in television and books. Write so they choose books.

—The last thing they need is preached at. They get up, go to public school and learn how their world is counting on them to be good people, or Christian schools and homeschool and they learn about God and how bad the world is. They know the stakes are high. They just need a bit of escape.

—They read above their age level. The average grade level on books are for average students. If they’re picking up a book—a serious time investment for a child—it’s because they can handle big concepts.

—Trust them. Give them truth, no matter how difficult. And never, ever lie to them.



Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at


Siblings Josh and Abby Hunter don’t believe their parents’ death was an accident. After taking pictures of the most incredible find of the 1920’s—proof humans and dinosaurs lived together in the same time and place—desperate outlaws armed with tommy guns are on their tail! Only Josh and Abby know where the proof is hidden—in the canyons of Arizona’s desert. When an intruder searches Josh and Abby’s bags inside their new home, the two convince their uncle Dr. David Hunter to return to the canyon and find the pictures they’d hidden. But the outlaws are just as eager to find the proof before Josh and Abby. Can Josh use his super-smart brain to outfox the villains in time? Will Abby’s incredible physical abilities stop full-grown men? And will their uncle believe them? 

Dino Hunters is an apologetics-adventure series aimed at the middle reader to help them trust the Bible from the very first verse.

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  1. Peter, I had no idea you had written a kid's book. Congratulations! Love the concept of giving them a book to read over television. I've always loved to read and I'm amazed at the number of people who don't.

    1. I’m surprised too, Terri. There’s no access to deep point of view, no thought process, no deep emotion from characters...I think TV is just easier. The emotional impact doesn’t last as long as a book maybe?

  2. Love this post, Peter! Dino Hunters sounds like a great book!


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