Wind in the Willows
, Where the Wild Things Are
, Winnie the Pooh
The stories of our childhood are magically imprinted on our mindscapes. Favorite books are so powerful that sometimes it feels as if a scene or rhyme or character were not only written on the page, but existed as a living part of our memory. They can take hold of our imagination and never let go; they can even become a part of us—literally
so, in the case of this young reader, remembered fondly by Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are
“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it… I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim: I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.”
This month, dear writers, write your own tale for children. In a book to be enjoyed by young readers under the age of ten, spin a tale through words (and optional illustrations) that will capture your audience for decades to come—for the best stories aren’t solely for a specific age group, but are loved by all.
READ OLD FAVORITES: It’s likely been a while since you’ve immersed yourself in children’s books. Venture back into those magical worlds! As you begin developing ideas for your story, revisit as many old favorites as you can, asking yourself what captured your attention, your imagination, your emotions… and why? What do you think appealed to you so powerfully back then, and how might you borrow some of that magic in your own tale?
AND DISCOVER NEW ONES! Visit your local library and ask the librarian for his or her recommendations for recently published wonders. The work of other writers can be a great inspiration, and give you ideas for how to move a story along, establish the relationship between text and images, develop characters that speak to the experiences of children, and much more.
MOMENTS IN YOUR OWN LIFE: Another source of inspiration might be right in front of you. Are there any experiences from your own childhood that could lend themselves to this genre?
THINKING SMALL TO THINK BIG: The most powerful experiences we have as children often happen in a very small world or as part of an everyday occurrence: a mistake, an encounter, a first… Things that might seem trivial to an adult can carry the weight of the world to a child. As you start drafting, try holding a magnifying glass up to a “small” incident or experience; it might be all the material you need for your own story to unfold.
YOUR AUDIENCE: “Anyone who writes down
to children is simply wasting his time,” wrote E.B. White. “You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth.” Although you are writing for a younger age group, don’t underestimate your audience! Children are still whole people with a whole range of feelings and ideas about the world. Honor that complexity.
WHAT COMES FIRST: Whether or not you’re including illustrations with your final submission, sketching out ideas is a great way to build your storyline, or even come up with a concept. When you’re stuck, confused about the sequence, or feel at loss for how to begin, experiment with drawing or mapping out your story.
ORGANIZING YOUR STORY: Before you begin the writing/illustrating process, you might have a fully-fledged concept in mind that helps you to organize your story: a particular theme, perhaps, or a message or meaning. On the other hand, you might start with an idea for a character, and the story builds from there. Whatever your approach, make sure to step back from time to time to consider the structure. Drawing or outlining a storyboard
might help you find your way from the first page to the last.
TELL US ABOUT THE PICTURES: Because much of a picture book’s story is told through images rather than words, feel free to include notes on the illustrations for each page. For example, you could have the following text on page five: “She bravely tested the water” (illustration notes: An image showing a little girl terrified of a river, closing her eyes and dipping just the very tip of one toe into the murky current
). These notes will help convey the full meaning of your story to the reader.
TEST RUN YOUR IDEA: Try reading your story aloud to a younger sibling, or younger students at your school. See what captures their interest, and where their attention seems to drift.
INCLUDE ILLUSTRATIONS (OPTIONAL): You have the option to include a sample illustration or two, or you may want to illustrate the entire story. (And don’t worry if you’re not artistically inclined! Describing your images with text or providing a sketch or two is enough for us to see your vision.) To share your illustrations, simply email us the file(s) at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Title your file(s) with your WtW username. Maximum file size = 25 MB per email. If your files total more than 25 MB, you can send us multiple emails. Finally, if you include illustrations, please add a note at the beginning of your published story on WTW, so we can be sure to match your submission with the images you email!
Who is Eligible?
Young writers ages 13-18
1 to 1000 words. Remember that some of the best books for children have very few words—quality not quantity is what matters.
Kathryn Otoshi is a multi-award winning author/illustrator and national/international speaker best known for her character-building book series, Zero
, and Two
. She goes to schools across the country to encourage kids to develop strong character assets, and helps teachers find customized, creative methods to engage students through art, reading and the power of literature. Her latest books, Beautiful Hand
s and Draw the Line
(Roaring Brook) make important statements about connecting, reaching out and building community. Her upcoming book is called Lunch Every Day
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
- Best Entry: $100 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the winning piece, and an interview with the author will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Runner up: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the piece will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Best Peer Review: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the best peer review and an interview with the reviewer will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner up and best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
- Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
- Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday, January 13 and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
January 6: Competition Opens
January 13: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
January 17: Reviews returned to Writers
January 21: Final Submissions Due
January 31: Winners Announced
Our Environmental Journalism Competition opens Monday, February 3rd.
Stay tuned for more details!