Fairy tales are Not? for Children

Let’s say you’re already a writer but you have never had anything published. Your goal is to become a published author. First rule of thumb (usually) is write what you know. (Second rule of thumb is write what you don’t know) Preferably after following rule #1. (Third rule of thumb or at least how I do my writing is by following rules one and two simultaneously.)

You want to write a book about or covering a topic you already know about, this will be to your advantage. Let’s say you’ve got plenty of experience with children. Or maybe you realise you are already qualified because you were once a kid yourself. Bingo! You can be a children’s author. Now, outline your story.

So you’ve got your protagonist, your antagonist, you’ve carefully created your story arc except you’re mulling over how much and what type of conflict is appropriate because, after all, you’re writing for kids and certainly you don’t want to end up writing about grown-up issues in the process because you know your audience.

But think back, what books were you reading as a child and what type of conflict did they deal with? From fairy tales to adventures if you were to re-read your favourite authors’ stories that you read as a child with grown-up eyes, what the grown-up perspective of what that literature reveals may astonish you.

Fairy tales are not for children. Or are they? In grade school I had an awesome teacher who handed out books to each of his pupils when it was their birthday. The very first story book ever put into my hands was Hansel and Gretel, by Engelbert Humperdinck. And, I loved it. (Yes, I know you should never start a sentence with the word and. But it’s fun. (So is starting a sentence with the word but.)

Hansel and Gretel is a great fairy tale. The evil witch, the curiosity of when, how, or if those children might escape the lovely candy house that roused their curiosity and appetites and got them into trouble in the first place. As a child I’m sure I would have loved and could picture that house vividly. The reunion that takes place at the end, (I won’t say with who on the very off chance you have not read this story before) because of course all fairy tales should end happily ever after, right?

But looking back…the abusive step-mother, the poverty stricken home life these kids must have experienced, the neglectful father who waited so long (it would seem) to catch up to his kids leaving them to fend for themselves; like children in a third world country waiting for help from someone on the outside. A little dramatic, I know, but it’s meant to be.

Some readers might contemplate where the authoritative figures were that should have swooped in and helped these kids out? The good news is, that is not what most children reading that story resonate with, although it might be possible for them to resonate with the story if they came from an abusive home life. These are not things I contemplated after reading this story as a child. I loved the adventure, the conflict, the suspense. The truth is, what writers’ write often and more often hits home and finds success (at least I’ve found) when the children find something they can identify with in the plot and when the story is so well written that they don’t want to put it down.

Did the author of this story push boundaries of ethical storylines for children by writing about an abusive situation? Do the children (readers) see that? Or are they picking up the book for its sensationalism? What are your thoughts?

Young adult novels, also known as a Y/A novel for novice writers are some of the first I remember in my childhood years. An adventure story, James and the Giant Peach, one of my all-time favourite children’s books by Roald Dahl, is about James, a young boy who goes on an adventure in a giant peach with a bunch of colourfully created insects and faces many challenges in his adventure.

Do you remember the ending to that story? No spoiler alerts here. But consider that story again with grown-up eyes: young boy escapes abusive home life and runs away from his troubles only to find that running away does not solve life’s problems.

The authors of children’s books are many and there are conflicts in (cough: most) if not all story lines. How else can we create stories if we do not create conflict? What you say and how you say it depending on who you are saying it to makes all the difference in who your intended audience should be. Keep that in mind if you are thinking of writing something more advanced than a picture book. How you create your manuscript from the characters you create to the predicaments you present them with will help determine the genre you are writing. The details you leave in and the details you leave out will impact everything from who reads your manuscript to who will buy it. Ultimately, it will affect your audience.

What are your literary ethics? Where do you draw boundaries on what you write and the type of characters you create? Are there any fairy tales you have read that you particularly loved or hated? Why?

I’ll be honest. I love writing and I’m in the middle stages of self-publishing my first children’s book, Loved Like Me but I really just wanted a reason to write about fairy tales.F


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