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Outlining for Children's Books

Many people have the misconception that writing a children’s book is an easy task because of its simplicity. If you're one of those people and you have an interest in writing a children’s book, we hope this post helps you change your views as you gain valuable tips on writing a book that children will love!

For this post, I will incorporate the general fiction outline to provide you with a full children’s book outline below:

1. Audience

Before you begin writing your children’s book, you should be clear on the age-level you plan on targeting, as that will dictate the plot and sophistication of the book.

To help you decide on the target age level for your book, we have put this list together of the different age levels and popular children’s books written for that age level. You can figure out the sophistication of each book by looking up the books’ synopses and reviews.

· Board books—newborn to age 3 (ex. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle)

· Picture books, level 1—age 3-5. (ex. One Love by Cedella Marley)

· Picture books, level 2—age 5-7. (ex. Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park)

· Chapter books, level 1—age 7-9. (ex. Charlotte’s Webb by E. B. White)

· Chapter books, level 2—age 9-12 (ex. The Baby-Sitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin)

· Young Adult (YA) novels—ages 12 and up (ex. The Giver by Lois Lowry)

· Young Adult (YA) novels—ages 14 and up (ex. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini)

Even beyond age level, in recent years, we have seen an explosion of children’s books written for children of color or children with diverse backgrounds.

2. Book Cover/Illustrations

While having a book cover that catches your target audience’s attention is a must for all books, especially fiction books, an eye grabbing book cover is especially important for children's books, especially if your target audience is children who don’t yet know how to read. In which case, you'd have to be careful to not only grab the children's attention, but also the attention of adults/parents. So, when deciding on how to design your book cover, study the book covers of the most popular children's books for your target age level to get some ideas.

Once you’ve caught your target reader’s attention with an engaging cover, if your target audience is for children 7 years old and below, be sure to include illustrations in the book. These illustrations, should be engaging. Think about it this way, the younger the age of your target reader, the more eye-catching and engaging the illustration should be so that it's more likely to keep the children's attention.

3. Setting

The sophistication level of the book should also play a role in dictating the setting of the book. When thinking about the setting of the book, ask yourself what type of setting is most appealing to children in your specific age group. For example, books that include school settings are popular for school-aged children because they are relatable.

4. Protagonist

When to comes to including a protagonist in a children’s book, a major focus should be on the vulnerability of the protagonist, especially in the books for children below the age of 5. For children of older ages, it is most important that the children are able to see themselves in the protagonist. For example, there has been a boom of hair love children’s books for black children, featuring a protagonist with curly hair.

5. Plot

When writing a children’s book, the plot does not need to be intricate. If you’re writing a book for newborns to 3-year-olds, for example, the plot can be as simple as a caterpillar eating a lot and getting a stomachache, as seen in the popular board book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The plot should depend on something children in your target age group would be able to relate to.

6. Protagonist & the Issue

In our opinion, the purpose of most children’s books is to teach children how to overcome obstacles and to help them develop their self-confidence. Accordingly, this idea should inspire how the protagonist deals with the issue. For example, in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the protagonist, the very hungry caterpillar, had a stomachache, and he was looking for a solution to the problem. In the end, he ate a leaf that helped him turn into a beautiful butterfly.

7. Climax

The sophistication of your children’s book will determine whether or not it needs a climax. If the book is meant to target newborn-3-year-olds, the book will typically not need to have a climax. However, in a book like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the plot can be intertwined with the climax—for example, the stomachache that the very hungry caterpillar gets after eating a lot.

8. Main Characters

The target audience’s age level will once again influence the characters that you include in your book. If you’re writing a book for children younger than age 5, the main characters should be the protagonist’s parents and siblings because those are people with whom children of that age interact the most. For children ages 7 and above, friends can begin to play larger roles in the story.

9. Conclusion

We think it goes without saying that children’s books should have a happy ending. It should be an ending that inspires the child, and the ending should have a positive message, i.e., the very hungry caterpillar becoming a beautiful butterfly at the end of the book.

We hope you found this post informative. Comment below your thoughts, and feel free to contact us should you have any questions!

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