1st: You’ll be all right, no one can hurt you now, by Gary Kuyper
2nd: The Lies that Bind, by Angelique Pacheco
3rd: A Matter of Marmalade, by Jenny Young
Highly Commended: Victory is Mine, by Casey Williams
(If this story was a few hundred words longer it would have made it into the top three.)
While I read and review dozens of children’s books each year, my favourite reads fall into the Young Adult/New Adult/fantasy and crime and thriller categories. These genres of course do not include my all-time favourite books, Harry Potter and the Numerous Book Titles That I’m Sure You All Know. This series falls under the category of children’s books – the very same category you were tasked with writing for in the most recent SAWC competition.
There is possibly nothing more difficult than writing a story for a child. There are a lot of factors that come into play as littlies have a really short attention span and need to be fully grasped by the very first page.
There has to be a minimal amount of character progression, the plot and sub plots have to be intriguing, light humour is a must, world building, lessons learnt by the end of the story are valuable assets, the characters likeable and, if that isn’t enough, relatable to the target audience.
Some of the best short stories in the world are read over and over again by young children. The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks are just a few that come to mind. Then there are the stories for older children, from Harry Potter to Charlotte’s Web and Roald Dahl’s novels.
In the case of the short stories provided, this would be for children between the ages of 5-12. If your protagonists are above any of these ages, then your work, unfortunately, did not meet the brief (I did give leeway to those with teenage and age-appropriate characters). Anything above these ages is aimed at a completely different demographic (young adult is 13 and over). Anything below and you are aiming your book at toddlers – and you definitely don’t need 1500 words to entertain a one-year-old.
I was concerned that many of the submissions were not edited. Many of the stories provided were interesting to read but were lacking in many of the areas mentioned above and this could have easily been avoided by a thorough edit and rewrite.
It is not all doom and gloom though. There were three stories that completely stood out for me as they embodied what one would expect to read when you pick up a children’s book. The top three included most of the criteria mentioned above.
I did find that many of the submissions used generous dosages of the words get/got and had. These can almost always be replaced with more emotive language.
Titles are important. A title and a snazzy cover page are the first things a person sees. If they are not gripped by the title, your book won’t sell nearly as well. Spend some time on these. Don’t use the subject brief as a book title.
I had an absolute blast making my way through many of the submissions and would really enjoy seeing a few of them turned into full novels.
P.S.: Before you go through and read your critique, note that I do not mince my words and shoot ‘straight from the hip’.