Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Writing the Right Age by Kathleen Vincenz

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

When I was a young mother of sons, I read everything about childhood development; I subscribed to Parents magazine; I talked to other moms. I knew when to expect the first tooth, the first smile, the first word. I tracked it in a notebook. I could spy a child in the neighborhood and know if the child was 15-months old or 2 years. Later I could tell a sixth grader from a seventh grader, a freshman from a senior.

Now all that knowledge is as faded as the notebook in which I wrote it down. How do I get it back so I can write that children’s book I dreamed of writing since I read my oldest his first picture book? What‘s a twelve-year old today? A sixteen-year old? What’s a writer to do?

· Watch current children’s television

Disney and other content providers have many good series about tweens and teenagers. In particular, the Disney+ series Diary of a Future American President compares the interests of twelve-year old Elena, the protagonist, with those of her fifteen-year old brother, Bobby. The show focuses on Elena’s awkwardness and lack of sophistication. She cares about getting along and being with her family, while Bobby starts to venture out and look for advice from others. A warning though. Later episodes in explore sexuality that you may not want to watch with younger children.

· Read a classic children’s book

A classic children’s book provides a protagonist who is true to the core of childhood. Think of a series that follows the protagonist as she grows like Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery or the Betsy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Because no movies, video games, or technology distract them, the children are shown at their purist.

Many of the older classics also demonstrate the socioeconomic impact on childhood development, such as Judy’s Journey by Lois Lenski. It tells the tale of Judy, the oldest daughter of a migrant worker, who at 10-years old feeds, babysits, and nurses her family but is still interested in a pretty dress made from a flour sack.

· Study childhood development
There’s nothing wrong with studying childhood development like the young mother I once was did. You can read a blog, borrow a science book from the library, or find a back issue of Parents magazine.

· Observe children

If you don’t have grandchildren or children of your own, sit yourself beside a family in church, at the park, or at the pool. Listen to their language, their perspectives. How they interact. What they discuss. New gems to be stored in a notebook. It’s not snooping—it’s observation!

· Take a magical journey

Now get physical. Stoop down on all fours. Now kneel. How is it different? Crouch and see what it’s like to open the refrigerator. Sit on the floor and watch the sun creep across and touch your toes. See the world from a child’s perspective.

I hope these tips help you write a children’s book for the ages. 

Tips for making your child protagonist age-appropriate via @kathyvincenz #SeriouslyWrite #amwriting


Kathleen Vincenz is the author of Over the Falls in a Suitcase and God's Sparrows. She is also the author of many articles and short stories and the founder of Squirrels at the Door Publishing.
She writes a blog about all things vintage, as well as a children’s newsletter, with a bit of science, history, and reading and a lot of fun with Larry the Squirrel, the mascot. Find them at 

Covers design and drawing by Danny Vincenz