Its’ Children’s Author Week and we welcome our author, Holly Cohen, with words on how to write for children.
I haven’t been a child for a while, so when I started developing the protagonist for my middle-grade novel, The Christmas Angel in Apt. 3C, I realized I needed to dust off my inner child if I had any hope of Angel coming to life for middle-grade readers. I wanted to respect the sharp intellects of these readers and write a story that rings true for them without resorting to pop culture references that don’t age well.
I started by remembering what it felt like to be a child at Christmas, since my story takes place during the Christmas season. Through the eyes of my inner child, I saw the beautiful sights that herald the onset of Christmas – decorations in red, green, gold, and silver; window displays that capture a child’s imagination; lush green fir trees laden with shimmering ornaments; and my favorite – nativities depicting the story of Jesus’ birth. I heard the carols and songs that tell the stories we know so well but love to hear again. I smelled the scent of pine adrift in the air. I tasted sugar cookies warm out of the oven and right off the cookie sheet.
Next, I imagined strolling down a snowy street (even though my outdoor thermometer read 75 degrees in my sunny Southern California backyard). I spun round and round with my arms outstretched while downy snowflakes kissed my cheeks. I sensed the stillness and peace of snowfall on a moonlit evening. I lay in the snow and swung by arms and legs to make a snow angel. I built a snow fort and lobbed perfectly packed snowballs. I did all these things as I had as a child growing up in New Jersey (sans the extremely unflattering snowsuit, of course).
Then, I explored the feelings I had as a child – the stinging pain of a bully’s cruel words, the ache of not fitting in, the desire to forgive as only the open heart of a child allows, the giddiness of newfound friendship, the joy of first learning about Jesus, the love I had for those who shared the gospel with me, and the hunger to know more.
I experienced all these things, (without leaving my writing desk) as I had when I was a child, instead of as the hurried adult of today. It made all the difference. It brought the details into sharp relief and allowed the words to flow without my pesky adult self getting in the way.
Fred Rogers (a.k.a. Mr. Rogers) said it best in these two quotes:
“Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.”
“The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.”
These quotes remind me that I need not go far for my touchstone when writing for children. I can visit my inner child who is eager to come out and play.
Holly Cohen lives in Southern California with her beloved husband, whose sense of humor she treasures. They are blessed with two wonderful sons and a daughter-in-law they adore. Holly is a grateful Christian, who loves spending time with her family and friends. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, creating, riding waves, and hiking. Her secret talent is extracting stuffed animals from claw machines.