A lot can be said about online learning. Though it can never exactly match up to in-person classes, it’s what helped the world’s students continue their education these past two years. Yet online education impacted them in other ways, as well. Most significantly, the Toronto Star reports that online learning reduces kids’ attention spans.
This is important news if you write stories for kids. It means you have to make your work even more engaging to grab and keep their focus on the page. But how exactly does one go about making kids’ stories more engaging? We list a few handy tips you can try.
1. Write for the right audience
All great kids’ stories rest on a solid foundation: they speak to the right audience. Different age groups respond best to stories structured in a particular way. This usually depends on the average reading level for their age, which in turn is based on brain development and how much they can comprehend at that point in time.
The age group you choose to write for will determine how simple or intricate your story should be—and cater to the interests and engagement levels of your intended readers.
For example, toddlers are more likely to be drawn in (no pun intended) by colourful, illustrated picture books. Kids aged 6-9 are better equipped to tackle chapter books, while those aged 5-8 may prefer easy-to-read books that fall into the gap between picture and chapter books.
And as exemplified by the wildly-popular and successful young adult or YA genre—now boosted globally thanks to a realm of TikTok referred to as BookTok—readers in the 12-18 age group love immersing themselves in stories with more complex plots and themes.
2. Revisit classic works for inspiration
One of the best ways to grab a kid’s attention is by introducing familiar elements to your story. Classic tales usually form the basis of students’ literacy, in large part because of school curricula, and many tales are universal in their appeal across countries and cultures.
Africa- and India-based school network Bridge International Academies, which provides its students with accessible digital versions of stories ranging fromThe Princess and the Pea to Treasure Island, exemplifies this.
Taking inspiration from these stories’ themes, plots, and even character traits can help your audience feel like reading your story is sort of like coming home—comfortable and familiar.
One way you can tackle this is by providing a fresh take on already-famous works. TheEnola Holmes series is a good example: the titular character is revealed to be the younger sister of famed detective Sherlock Holmes.
3. Go wild in world-building and character creation
Kids have wild imaginations, so yours should be the same.
Unique and memorable worlds and characters encourage your readers to let their minds run free as they read.
These will also stick firmly in their memory, which is great for engagement. Alice’s Wonderland, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and The Land of Oz are just some great examples of worlds that drew you in as a kid and that you now look back fondly upon as an adult.
Meanwhile, the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are out of this world: chewing gum champion Violet, spoiled rich kid Veruca, food-lover Augustus, and video game enthusiast Mike. All had major character flaws compared to Charlie, which served to make the story both memorable and relatable to kids.
You can also make characters that readers can see themselves in. Phùng Nguyên Quang’s My First Dayis one such title that pays homage to Vietnamese kids and how, like all other kids, they can make simple tasks like walking to school a wonderful adventure.
4. Be careful with language
In How To Hook Your Readers, we mentioned how crucial it is to use language that makes readers feel like your equal and not your inferior. Using language that mirrors their own makes your story easier for kids to keep reading.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?’s use of repetitive language is a favorite of young kids who are still establishing their speaking skills and building up their vocabularies. Conversely, you can use more complex phrasing with older audiences. The Kite Runner, which is recommended for kids in 9th grade and higher, contains sentences like this:
"I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”
One important thing to remember: write in a straightforward manner. Tangential writing in adult-oriented works can add color to your story, but it might make kids restless. This is important if you want to engage younger readers.
Writing engagingly for kids can be tricky. By calling out your own kid-at-heart and taking notes from the greats, you’ll be well on your way to creating your own great story. For more tips do check out our other articles on So You Want to Write.
About Jennifer Birch
Jennifer Birch is a freelance writer who specializes in pieces relating to literature. With a strong affinity for kids and books alike, she enjoys writing about ways to merge the two.
Want advanced tips for boosting creative confidence, reducing distractions, and overcoming writer's block? Book a 1-on-1 consultationwith Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.