A 3 Step Framework for Writing a “Lesson” Kids Book That Doesn’t Suck

“The most tried and true way I know someone is not going to make a good kids book is if they didn’t take the time to put away their agenda, get into the mind of the kid, and then write.”

Jim Averbeck

The worst feeling in the world is pouring your heart and soul into making a kid’s book and having a kid toss it aside because it’s not interesting.

They do this. Kids are not shy about what they don’t like. They’re honest – brutally honest – critics. And, sure, you can force them to read something, but you can’t make them like it.

How do you make a kids book that teaches something, but keeps kids interested? To make a kids book that teaches a lesson but doesn’t stink, you need to: 1: Know your agenda (what are you hoping the book will do, teach, or inspire). 2: Outline a story that illustrates the ideas. 3: Set your agenda aside and write that story from the mindset of a kid.

Let’s dig into it.

Step 1: What do you want this book to do?

As adults we have ideas we want to share with kids, and we see kids books doing that, so we want to make a kids book that shares our idea, message, or…. *gulp* lesson.

Why the *GULP* at the word “LESSON”?

How many fiction stories do you read that were thinly-clothed sermons? Probably not many. Kids don’t know how to articulate this yet, but they don’t love it either.

That being said, it’s reality, and it’s not evil. I make a story a month and I love when I have a good story that was inspired by an idea I want to show to a kid.

Questions to Ask:

  • What idea am I hoping to INSPIRE?
  • What concept am I hoping to TEACH?
  • What word am I hoping to DEFINE?
  • What character quality am I hoping to INSTILL?

You want this too and it’s not wrong. It’s just very likely to produce an uninteresting story, if you don’t carefully do the next 2 steps….

Let’s do this right!

Step 2: What’s a story that illustrates the pain, frustration, mistakes, consequences, surprises, and teachable moments that support that goal?

This is key: Illustrate, not preach.

Ask yourself: What could happen that would show this idea through:

  • Mistakes!
  • Consequences!
  • Surprises!
  • Pain!
  • Frustration!
  • Action!
  • Danger!
  • Humor!

Those are the things kids latch onto. In fact they are called Reaction Triggers and there are a whole lot of them.

Related: “Reaction Triggers, What are They and Why Should They Be in Your Kids Book?

You want a story that kids will react to that will also get them really thinking about the idea you’re presenting.

Step 3: Put yourself in the mind of the reader, say, a 7-year-old.

The whole idea behind the movie inception is that for someone to truly adopt an idea, you have to make them think it was their idea to begin with.

Take a queue from good ole’ mind-bendy himself Christopher Nolan and let’s get good at INCEPTING ideas not teaching them.

Show a story that, when a kid reads it, he comes to his own conclusions. Those conclusions just happen to be the idea you were hoping to teach.

INCEPTING the idea > trying to TEACH the idea

To do this we have to get into the mindset of our target age group.

Let’s say it’s 7-year-olds. Okay. Let’s go back to being 7.

Ask:

  • What did I like at 7?
  • What are 7-year-olds frustrated by?
  • What were my regular hopes when I was 7?
  • What’s stressful about a 7-year-old’s day?
  • What things do 7-year-olds think are cool, exciting, funny, and interesting?

When you get in the mind of the reader instead of an objective parent perspective you won’t do this:

“In his selfishness, Billy didn’t realize that Sarah just wanted to play too.”

– a terrible (stuck-in-parent-perspective) writer

Adult perspective. Bad writing. Not interesting to a kid.

I looked at that above example and took the time to really get into the mind of my 7-year-old self and rewrote it as:

“Sarah, why?!  AHHH!!!” 

“Okay, let me take a deep breath here.”

*breathes in heavily* 

“You ever have to deal with this?”

[To the reader]

“You just got done setting up the most epic toy set, and your Godzilla sister comes in and wrecks it with her feet of devastation.”

[Looks at mess in despair]

“I’m never going to be able to rebuild this.”

– a writer who’s not better, he just stepped into the child’s perspective

Let’s Recap!

Step 1 is what’s the goal?

What are you hoping to define, inspire, or teach?

Step 2 is what’s the story?

How could you tell a story that illustrates that idea? Write a simple outline of that.

Step 3 is go back to being a kid.

When you actually write it, put your agenda aside, and really step into the mindset of your reader. Write with their perspective top of mind.

Good luck! I can’t wait to read your story!

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