When you were little, what did you see? You don’t remember, do you? I do. I used to walk about with a mirror, turned toward the ceiling and it felt like I was walking upside down. I had to step over doorways to avoid the light fixtures. It was a fun game and I remember playing it for hours.
But that illustrates my point about writing for preschoolers — it’s all about their perception, not yours. What do they see?
Adults are pretty much kneecaps, unless they’re sitting. Preschoolers see kitchen table legs, but not what’s on the table, unless they’re standing on a chair or are in a high-chair. And even little animals seem large to them. Large dogs, for example, seem more like horses.
So, you have to be aware of these things when writing picture books. Of course, the artist will illustrate your concepts, but to write effectively, you have to become a child again and think like they do.
Here’s a great anecdote from Tellman & Jodi’s four-year-old son, Torger, that had me smiling:
They’re in Costa Rica right now, and he was in the swimming pool. Jodi wrote and said that he was “having trouble” getting out of the pool. He’d put one foot out and then, put it back down and then, put the other foot out. He was making no progress at all. So, Jodi asked him what he was doing. He said, “It’s says 2 feet.” Now, any adult would realize that it meant the depth of the water. Torger thought that he meant he was supposed to have 2 feet in or out of the pool.
That’s how you need to think when writing picture books.
If you’re writing about a trip to the store, you have to realize that little once can only see the bottom shelves, unless they’re in the shopping cart and then, they can only see the middle to top shelves. And they won’t know what an avacado is, for example, unless you explain what it is.
The language that you use for preschoolers can be a little more difficult than it would be for babies or early readers because the kids are listening, not reading yet. Just be sure that they will understand that words that they hear. If you have to use a word a majority of kids their age won’t understand, you need to explain it.
And remember that their thoughts are more complex than babies, but they’re still new. Most concepts are literal. So, if you’re having a bad day and say offhandedly that you’re “running away from home,” expect them to believe you. Not a good thing to say to preschoolers at all. I did one day, and my daughter just now admitted to me that she thought it meant she was making things hard for me at the time. OMG! I never meant it that way, and in fact, it wasn’t about her at all. It was about work!
But you see, they hear everything and process it as fact and because they’re quite self-centric at this age, you need to realize that everything relates to them.t
So, when writing understand that your facts — whatever you write — will be taken as gospel, unless you do it in such a ridiculous way that they know you’re just making things up. I mean, they get it that the Cat in the Hat can’t really do the things he does, but really wish he could.