Eleven Tips for Writing Successful Nonfiction for Kids
by Fiona Bayrock     Copyright 2004  http://www.fionabayrock.com



1 Tap into your Ew!, Phew!, and Cool! - Think like a kid.
Lead with the gross, icky, unusual, weird, hilarious, or very cool aspects of your topic.  Sure, a giraffe has a long tongue, but tell kids it's long enough for the giraffe to clean its ears with it (Ew, gross!), and you've hooked them into reading more.

2 Play with words.
Add puns, homonyms, onomatopoeia, alliteration, double meanings, BIG WORDS, and lo-o-o-o-o-ong words as you would spice to a meal---sometimes a little is enough, and sometimes you want a big dose to heat things up.  Have fun.

3 Be Conversational.
Write as though you're talking to one child from your target audience; use a friendly, informal style; vary sentence length and structure; ask questions; sprinkle in a few sentence fragments and a "Wow!", "Aha!" or "No kidding!", if appropriate.  Pssst...you can even start a sentence or two with "and" or "but".

4 Try Unusual Formats.
Instead of straight narrative, consider turning your subject matter into a mystery, quiz, awards show, puzzle, or ???.

5 Link new information to something kids already know.
Use similes and metaphors; compare sizes of new objects to familiar ones---as tall as a basketball net, as long as your arm, or calculate how many jam sandwiches a 10-year-old must eat to eat the same as a fruit bat per body weight.  Make sure references are relevant---most kids today don't know about typewriters and dial telephones.

6 Include activities.
Models, experiments, simulations...editors love them, but never get enough.  A simple activity could take a few sentences in a larger article (e.g. a finger on a balloon makes noise like a violin, or cupping your hand around your ear helps you hear better), or become a self-contained companion article or sidebar with list of equipment and instruction steps.

7 Use storytelling techniques.
No made-up stuff in nonfiction.  Stick to the facts, but try things like writing in second person---"you" puts the child in the story and makes it much more immediate.  "Imagine you've just landed on Mars.  You'd see..."

8 Narrow your topic.
Be specific; instead of writing about "frogs", or even one species of frog, go for a narrow slice.  Try "survival techniques of tadpoles in fast streams", "frog hospital saves frogs from roadkill death", or "how frogs breathe", or "when frogs have three legs".

9 Use reliable sources.
Primary, when possible; go for the best experts to interview (you'll be surprised how often they say yes); get at least three independent sources for every fact; and remember, anyone can put up a website that says anything, so be very careful about internet sources.

10 Know your market.
Do your homework to make sure you're sending your work to the right editor---what an editor has published in the past is a big clue to what they will purchase in the future; follow publisher guidelines.

11 Do photo research.
You don't have to acquire or shoot the pictures, but as you're researching, note possibilities and ask your sources about availability.  Experts are often more than happy to have their personal pics accompany an article or appear in a book they've helped with.  Point an editor toward fresh images and you'll be worth your weight in gold.

Now, get writing!

Fiona Bayrock is the author of BUBBLE HOME AND FISH FARTS (Charlesbridge) and several other quirky science books for kids. Her news items, activities and feature articles have appeared regularly in YESMag, Odyssey, WILD, Highlights for Children and several educational databases. She is constantly in search of the "Aha!", clever puns, and her coffee.  This article first appeared in Smart Writers Journal, July 2004.


2004 Fiona Bayrock  Art 2005 Ruth McNally Barshaw
All rights reserved. 
Permission is granted to print a copy of this article for personal use only.  Byline must be included in its entirety.  
To use this article for any other purpose, please email the author for permission.  Reasonable requests are likely to be granted.
fiona @ fionabayrock.com  ...remove spaces