I realize that he was probably talking about some of the board books that have nothing but a single word with a correlating picture, or something equally simple, (which really nobody actually “writes” those books so much as designs and produces them) but I always feel a little bit defensive when anyone speaks in a condescending manner about children’s books and the supposed ease of their creation. For the record, I started off wanting to write picture books because I thought it would be easier. When that didn’t work out, I went on to novels. I’m still trying to figure out the picture book thing.
Certainly, there are children’s books seemingly so simple it’s amazing to conceive that anyone actually gets paid to write them, and other children’s books written so poorly it’s nearly inconceivable that anyone would publish them. However, the seemingly most simple of books can actually be the most difficult to write. A SHORT BOOK DOES NOT MEAN IT WAS EASY TO WRITE. The fewer the words, the fewer places your sloppiness has to hide, and the more exacting you must be in so many ways. Every word must pack a lot of punch. And along those same lines, the younger the age, the more difficult to captivate. (My two and four-year-olds are the pickiest of readers. Not one it ten books captivates them.)
Unfortunately a children’s writer rarely, if ever, has this luxury, due to the natural impatience of our audience. Whatever brilliance an adult author achieves in ten pages, a children’s writer must achieve in ten words. Some mistakenly think that less words equals less work, when actually it is precisely the opposite. I spend a lot of time trying to concentrate a lot of ideas and information, not to mention style and tone, into very few words and at the same time make it clear. And a bonus if it sounds brilliant. I would venture to say that most writers would agree that poetry is by far the most difficult form to master, followed by the short story, and then the novel. And indeed, it takes a kind of poetry to write for children.
No children’s author decides to write children’s books because they think it’s easier, and if they do, they quickly learn how mistaken they were and either set to work or quit. We still have to hone our craft just like any other writer, and there are things adults authors can get away with that would never fly in children’s books, content aside. I don’t write for children because I think it’s easier than writing for adults. I write for children because that’s where I live, it’s how I view the world, and quite frankly, I don’t have much to say to grown-ups. You’re not as magical as kids.
So next time you’re tempted to scoff at a children’s book, go ahead and try to write one and submit it to a publisher. You might find new respect for children’s authors. OR you might write a really awesome book and get it published. If you do, I’ll buy it!