Kid Lit: Advice from a Published Children’s Author

We have lots of clients who write children’s books and are continually impressed by how difficult they are to write. Fewer words doesn’t mean an easier task; it means each word has to carry a big load and therefore has to be carefully weighed and chosen, a little like writing poetry.

Our friend, Karen Leggett Abouraya, knows a good deal about writing children’s books. Karen is the co-author, along with Susan L. Roth, of HANDS AROUND THE LIBRARY, PROTECTING EGYPT’S TREASURED BOOKS. This charming and charmingly illustrated book is the true story of how Egyptians stood together to save the Alexandria Library:


Our ancient Egyptian stories
are kept alive here,
in the books
and in the carved stone
and shimmering glass
of the building itself.
We were free inside the library
even when we were not free outside.

Guest blogging for us, Karen advises that children can be tough critics:

They can spot mistakes and inconsistencies or lose interest more quickly than you can read a limerick!

Know your audience – look at books in a library or book store intended for that audience. Are your language and situations appropriate for the age group you intend?

Test your stories with children and adults who are not your aunts, uncles, mothers, grandmothers, etc – if you have a friend who teaches the appropriate grade level, have the teacher read aloud all or a portion of the book and get suggestions from the kids. They are often very wise!

Sign up for a critique session at a conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI, There are chapters in nearly every major city; their conferences are usually inexpensive one-day events that feature useful presentations by authors and editors as well as critique sessions with actual editors. You won't get a contract at one of these sessions but you will get good ideas to improve your manuscript. You can join SCBWI before you have published any books; the SCBWI bimonthly Bulletin has lots of good articles on writing for kids.

Check out these websites for tips:

Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C. – regular monthly luncheons have speakers who often provide good tips for writers and/or illustrators – check the luncheon schedule and also tips for writers at

Children's Writer Newsletter – regular information on writing, style,genres, markets

Look for classes on children's writing at a local community college or The Writer's Center in Bethesda

Read reviews of children's books in the New York Times or online to see what reviewers appreciate

Use Writer's Digest to help identify good places to submit a manuscript. Check each publisher's website for submission guidelines – some won't accept unsolicited manuscripts (only from agents); be sure to follow the submission guidelines.

If you are writing a picture book, submit only the manuscript – the publisher will find the artist. Only on rare occasions, when the publisher already knows the artist or the writer, will the two be able to collaborate on a book.

It can be useful to watch trends, but you have to identify a trend that will be long lasting – the time from submitting an idea to a publisher to seeing a book in print can be 1-2 years. Right now, and probably for several years, high quality nonfiction will be popular because the new Core Standards for public schools require much more nonfiction reading at all grade levels. Find out about high quality nonfiction at or among winners of the Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award (see Nonfiction Award tab at or the Robert Sibert Nonfiction Award (

Thank you, Karen!