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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Writing About T-Rex and Other True Stories
by Devorah Stone

A quick survey of the local magazine reveals adults are interested in money, celebrities and relationships. Children are interested in almost everything, which is why I love writing for them.

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to know why the sky is blue why their cat can climb trees why their dog drinks out of the toilet and where China is. School, television, and now the Internet bombard children with information but they still crave more of the right kind.

Think back to what interested you when you were a child. Today's children are probably still interested in that. Dinosaurs are a perennial favorite of children. Children are also interested in other children who became or are artists and scientists. They are also interested in space, animals, other cultures, robots, and volcanoes. If you don't have children of your own find children the age you want to write for and discover their interests.

Choose what age you want to write for. For young children aged two to four write a simple article or book introducing dinosaurs and explaining that they lived long ago. Sounding out large dinosaur names brings a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment to children as young as five-years-old. Children from ages seven and up are ready to tackle the larger dinosaur issues like how dinosaurs disappeared. Many children at age ten can handle arguments about whether birds evolved from dinosaurs. Donna Smith a nonfiction writer specializing in horses says, " I believe there is not a lot of difference if you are talking about middle readers. Kids today are pretty smart."

Children because of the media are highly sophisticated and have a greater general knowledge than their parents did at their age. A good way to find out what children know is to read other books on the subject, including textbooks. Also talk to children in the age group you want to write for.

Many adults read children's nonfiction books and magazines because they want the basics without the jargon. Whenever I want to research a new topic, I always go to the children's section of the library first because they have the best books.

Dory R. Courtney a schoolteacher observes, "I know many adults who would rather read a children's article about a subject to get the main ideas without the technical jargon or long-winded explanations. They want clear, concise information, which children's nonfiction does very well."

Children like adults, need the latest up to date facts. Knowledge is constantly changing. Children through the media and school know a great deal and can check facts on their own. Unless you are currently taking a university course - don't rely on your knowledge - check every fact and assumption. I always thought there were nine planets in school but recently there has been a dispute about whether Pluto is a planet or merely a large asteroid. Check all facts with at least two sources.

If you are going to use Web sites, make sure they are accurate and updated frequently. Mayo Clinic and NASA are excellent updated Web sites. Many universities and museums also have frequently updated Web sites. You can contact experts through the Internet. If you do this make sure they are who they say they are and ask for their home phone number. Get the most recent books and magazines you can find on the subject. Contact professors and experts in a field and quote them in your article.  Knowledgeable hosts check out all their links.

Don't confine yourself to the your reader's vocabulary level. Children love proper scientific words. They love sounding out those long dinosaur names or botanical identifications. Children feel like scientists when they can use those words. Use both the common term and the scientific term. It's also a good idea to write the scientific word phonetically in brackets to help parents. The rest of the text should be in their age appropriate level. Don't rely completely on your computer grade level program. Look at the books aimed at the age level you want to write for.

Dory R. Courtney says, "The main difference is probably in vocabulary, which to some extent dictates how detailed and in-depth an author can delve into a topic. Now, is vocabulary directly related to life experience and education? Probably."

Geoff Tanner an engineer and children's author explains "I try, in my writing, to not write down to a particular age level, but expect them to aspire upwards towards mine."

World View
Children are intelligent, thinking people but they have less world experience than adults. It's important to relate the article to their world. Say how large the dinosaur is in meters and/or feet but also compare it to a building, house, a car, or their cat. In explaining how far Mars is say how long it would take people in a space ship to get there. Children may know more about dinosaurs and space than many other adults but they have limited life experiences. Write about how the penguin mother fishes for food for her chicks is like their parents working in order to buy food. Talk about how every day household chores would be different for children in ancient Greece or Mexico. Including in your article simple kitchen experiments or craft projects like vinegar and baking soda volcanoes can make abstract ideas concrete.

Children also have a great imagination. Use it. Show penguins huddling together for warmth in the winter. Describe the Martian atmosphere and gravity as though your reader was right there. A good children's nonfiction writer uses many of the same tactics fiction writers use, transporting their reader to Antarctica or Mars.

Children as young as eight can grasp certain abstract concepts like the difference between a fact, theory, and a hypothesis if the writer explains it clearly. They can also come to their own conclusions about how the dinosaurs died off. It's all right to show that scientists differ in their opinions on a subject because children often disagree with their friends, teachers, and parents.

Keep your writing clear, concise, simple, and informative.

One day my son came home with a school project on penguins. I pulled out my copy of my own article on the subject. He was able to find lots of interesting facts from my article. I was so proud and so was he!

Devorah Stone's passion for art led the way to a visual arts degree from the University of Victoria. Her true love for writing surfaced later, after marriage and three children. She has published articles on bread baking, online confessions booths, dancing hamsters, penguins, snow flakes, women Rabbis, weight lifting, high school graduation, Pokemons and life on other planets. A former Web reviewer for the Encyclopedia Britannica online guide, her articles, fiction and reviews have been widely published in Inklings, Folksonline, Highlights for Children, Chatelaine, Papyrus magazine, Amateur Chef and Straight Goods, among others. She was the Inkspot's Community Discussion Forum's Project Leader. She is currently the Historical Fiction Forum Host for the Writer's BBS.









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