Unlocking the Magic of Writing Books for Children: Tips and Tricks for Creating Engaging Stories

A finance professional based in Singapore, Aditi Krishnakumar donned the hat of an author in 2012. She won the Scholastic Asian Book Award for her book Codex: The Lost Treasure of the Indus (2016).

Aditi Krishnakumar at #blogchatterWritFest

As part of #BlogchatterWritFest, Aditi Krishnakumar shared her experiences of writing books for children in an exclusive workshop. Excerpts:

What factors do you keep in mind when writing books for children?

Children explore their world through books, find out things that they are curious about. The best thing about children’s books is the joy, the sense of wonder at discovering the world. While writing the book, I just go with the flow. I get back into the mindspace of when I was a child, reading and then it all happens.  

There is something very nice about being able to write a children’s book where you have a protagonist who can continue to be good, not perfect by any means, but fundamentally a good person. We don’t avoid difficult subjects in children’s books, but the way we present those is important.

Books for adults are also happy and joyful, but sometimes one does tend to avoid difficult subjects, as they are more about escapism. When you’re writing for adults in a modern, urban, magical realism kind of fantasy, it tends to get a bit dark. You know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows; the good guys are not really all that good.  

That Year at Manikoil, part of ‘Song of Freedom series’, deals with themes of war, freedom, death, grief and social issues. Even though, it’s historical fiction, I have explored the themes as openly and bluntly because children ask questions that need a correct answer. Part of our effort is to give children a glimpse of the world and the tools that they need to cope with all the things that are around them.  

That Year at Manikoil, part of ‘Song of Freedom series’ by Aditi Krishnakumar

Manikoil is a fictional place. Was that a conscious choice?

Manikoil is based on my grandmother and grandfather’s villages. The reason I chose the fictional place was that it basically allowed me to have a plot. Otherwise, I would have been stuck within the geography and the actual history of that place. I wanted to have the freedom to not depart from the broad strokes of history but to depart from daily events, and it did help me move the plot along. However, the plot is rooted in reality; it is based on the real villages that I have been to.  

How to create characters that children can relate to, for instance Raji in Manikoil?

Every author has a different way of doing things. Some authors prepare character sheets. When writing books for children, there is a tendency to not let the characters have any imperfections. But I feel you should let characters have flaws. I let the characters have their own life.

I let the characters also feel the social awkwardness that children sometimes feel when they’re interacting with the adult world. We’ve all felt that; some friends of your parents or grandparents visit and ask you to recite a poem. You don’t like it. Everyone knows that feeling. I let the children know that the characters also feel the same things.

I do not have lots of physical descriptions. I just talk about the character in a line or two. This gives room for the children to interpret the character, letting their imagination loose.

Will ‘slice-of-life’ books be relevant for children even after a decade?

I think yes, because ‘slice-of-life’ books are about the fun things of being a child and some of those things haven’t changed. The schools are different, but children do still go to school. They have relationships with parents, grandparents, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends.  

How do you factor in the story and the age group? Is it the story first and age group later, or vice versa?

I write the story first. The only exception was That Year at Manikoil because it was part of a series and the editor had a clear vision that it was going to be a middle-grade book. I let the editors, publishers decide what age group the marketing is going to be aimed at.

We are not including any content that we would consider inappropriate for children. And perhaps that’s why some main characters are children, which children relate to more. But every book is layered and you enjoy it in in your own way.

What about language and vocabulary for children? Do you have some dos and don’ts for that?

The only important thing is not using inappropriate language. Children are different and have different reading comprehensions. By limiting your vocabulary, you can limit your audience and also their reading. Some children enjoy reading more, have a better vocabulary and comprehension. Some of them get into reading later.  I have had eight-year-olds enjoy the books while some 13-year-olds find some words a bit difficult.

It’s important not to err on either side. Also, I don’t go out of the way to include many big words, thinking children will improve their vocabulary. Just write the words that need to be written, and the children will figure it out.

It’s important to remember that there’s no reason why a well written children’s book can’t be enjoyed by adults. Some of my biggest fans of That Year at Manikoil have been elderly people, who could relate to the events.

What role do illustrations play in children’s books?

I find illustrations fun; art stimulates the mind. However, as the reader age group goes up, the illustration to tend to go down. As illustrations are expensive, budget may be a constraint for books for older children. I really think it depends on the book, whether they need illustrations or not.

Murder in Melucha by Aditi Krishnakumar

What tips would you offer when penning highly sensitive social issues?  

I think it’s important to address these issues. But you have to know the depth of the issue well, else it could lead to trolling. You have to tackle it. There are many relevant social issues such as gender equality, racism, language bias, discrimination. If you’re going to try and address all of them in one book, it’s not going to happen. The writer needs to figure out what they would like to address and how they are going to address it. In the ‘Meandering Magician series’, I created a world where some of these biases didn’t exist and left it there.

What do you think about children’s book being politically correct or re-edited?  

I’m not a fan of re-editing. For instance, Roald Dahl wrote in a particular age and people had certain views. In the current times, we no longer hold those views. We understand that some of his views were incorrect. But I don’t think there’s any point in pretending that that didn’t happen. It did happen and is a part of our history. We don’t gain anything by raising it. That said, if those books are written today, we would write them to meet different norms.

Do children’s stories need to have a closed ending or they can have an open ending as well?

It depends on the story. Children really like to imagine what will happen later. So, I wouldn’t recommend ending, a children’s story with major plot lines unresolved. But if there are minor things that you want to leave open, either for a sequel or for fun, it might be good.

Which children’s books can adults also read?

Everyone likes different kinds of books. But I do think that adults should be much more open to reading children’s books. There’s something magical in children’s books, the sense of wonder of childhood.

How can we nurture writing and reading habits in children?

Children tend to do what they see you doing. I have seen this with my daughter. You can keep a daily journal or dairy. When the children see this, they’re just likely to want to do it. If they see you writing and reading and really enjoying these things, then they want to be part of it, too.

Do you think children’s stories have a certain pattern?

When we think of children, we think of patterns. Children, especially young children, like the idea of magic, unicorns or dragons. But as I said, fantasy is just a way to let you explore philosophical questions that children understand just as we do, but without all the difficult philosophical language. I think that’s pretty cool.

Do children in the West relate to stories by Asian authors?

If we look at the evolvement, there’s more awareness of books written by Asian authors. However, at the same time, they don’t do as well as books written by European or American writers. I have not been to book readings in the West, but I have been to book events in Singapore. And you get more interest as a South Asian writer when you’re in India and Singapore to some extent. But we do see the landscape of children’s writing changing right now. There was less written work from India for children. There is so much more scope now.  We need to build more awareness around these stories.

Which Indian authors would you recommend for children’s books?

I like books written by Devika Rangachari, Varsha Bajaj, Sudha Murthy, Lubaina Bandukwala.

In case, you are interested in attending these sessions, #BlogchatterWritFest Season 7 schedule goes thus:

May 5:  Writing for a Modern Audience, Panellists: Tanushree Podder, Riva Razdan Aayush Gupta

May 8   Exclusive Workshop on Writing Mythology, Author: Satyarth Nayak

May 12 Queer Representation in pop culture, Panellists: Dr. Minita Sanghvi, Aniruddha Mahale

May 16 Writing for Children, Author: Aditi Krishnakumar

May 19 Plotting and pacing in thriller books, Panellists: Mansi Babbar, Nidhi Upadhyay, Kanchana Banerjee

May 23 Storytelling in Nonfiction books, Panellists: Ashdin Doctor, Reema Ahmad

May 26 Why should everyone read children’s books? Panellists: Sonia Mehta, Sohini Mitra

This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’ hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla in collaboration with Zariya Healings.

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21 thoughts on “Unlocking the Magic of Writing Books for Children: Tips and Tricks for Creating Engaging Stories

  1. What an interesting session it must’ve been Ambica and you captured so much. The questions are so relevant. I would really like to be a part of atleast one session. Thanks for sharing the schedule.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wanted to attend this session but missed it. Thanks for sharing it here.. Aditi’s approach to writing books for children is commendable. By tapping into their childhood experiences and sense of wonder, they can create engaging stories that resonate with young readers. It’s refreshing to hear that the protagonists in their children’s books can be flawed but fundamentally sound, providing a relatable and positive role model for children.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Children are like a handful of clay and it depends on us how you mould it into shape infusing quality knowledge and habits in them. The children books are a medium to introduce kids to the world of imagination. It shows the path how to nurture their thought process and adapt the learning from the book . Writing a children’s book gives immense pleasure to any author as they revisit their own childhood days. Yes as said by author here we need to be careful about the use of words and rest todays kids are more smarter than us they will get in flow faster than us. Overall a very insightful session

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel writing for children is the most difficult. The author’s approach to writing is commendable. This session is surely useful for children’s book writers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I missed the sessions and was hoping to catch up on the weekend. Thanks for sharing the excerpt. I have recently started exploring middle-grade books and they are quite at par with adult fiction when it comes to writing. High time the authors get the recognition they deserve.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love the questions you’ve brought up during this session. It brought up more of the personality and thoughts of Aditi for us to know her more. It’s no wonder she makes wonderful children’s books.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A very detailed interview Ambica. I agree that when one writes for children, captivating them with the language is very important. And the genres of writing of Aditi look very varied giving children a range to choose from too. Impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Writing books for children is challenging because it requires capturing their attention, understanding their developmental needs, and creating relatable, engaging, and age-appropriate content.

    Aditi’s approach to writing children’s books deserves praise. By drawing inspiration from children’s own experiences and innate curiosity, they craft captivating narratives that deeply connect with young readers. It’s truly refreshing to learn that the main characters in their stories can have flaws while remaining inherently good, offering relatable and inspiring role models for children. Aditi’s ability to tap into the wonder of childhood and create engaging tales is truly commendable, leaving a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of young readers.

    Thanks for the share. There’s a lot that writers of children’s books can learn from the interview.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That was such an interesting session! I love the fact that a spade should be called a spade…I mean just because we don’t agree with certain views anymore doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen. Loved reading the interview.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was so excited for this session but couldn’t attend it due to office meetings but you have captured it so beautifully. Thanks for sharing this post I don’t feel left out of the session anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This was one inspiring session from the BlogchatterWritFest. The author shared many tips and tricks on writing children’s books, their research, and their thought processes. I’m inspired to pick up the author’s works as well. Great Session summary by you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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