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“Theme”, or Simple Gifts

Emma Walton Hamilton / Blog  / “Theme”, or Simple Gifts
“Theme”, or Simple Gifts

“Theme”, or Simple Gifts

The ‘What’s It All About’ discussion of the last post leads right to the next topic: theme.

What do you want to say to your audience, and why?  It’s not enough to simply entertain – we want to offer our readers something to think about, a feeling, perhaps, or a question for further dialogue after the book is finished.  Your theme is your message, your point, your reason for writing this story… in a word, the gift you wish to give.

Let’s say you have an idea about a rescue dog: a compelling character with plenty of plot possibilities.  But what is it you want to say to kids about being a rescue dog?  Is it the value of home, family, courage, being lost and then found?  The task is not to preach or to teach – but rather to give. Think back to being a child, to what you needed to hear or to know, what would have helped you most on your journey to adulthood.

loveThe most successful children’s books are those that have emotional resonance for children. They have a heart that kids can connect with and relate to. Obviously, as adults it’s our responsibility to help guide young minds toward the wiser choices we hope they’ll make… but we need to give kids the respect to make those discoveries themselves rather than having it spoon-fed to them, or worse, hammered over their heads.  We must work to ensure that our themes are relevant and valuable to our reader’s current experience… and most importantly, that they are there to be discovered – not overtly stated or screamed out from the page.

The best way to achieve this is to put ourselves in our reader’s shoes, and write in terms that he or she can relate to. That doesn’t mean we can’t use rich language, or that we can’t ask kids to stretch up a bit in terms of vocabulary. It’s about writing from the child’s point of view as opposed to that of an adult, and offering something that helps our young reader better cope with the challenges of growing up, even if it’s as simple as “you’re not alone…” or “you are loved.”

Here’s a great exercise to explore this further: Write a paragraph describing something – a person, place or object – from your adult perspective. Now, describe that same thing, but imagine that you are a six-year-old child as you write. You can write as either yourself at that age, or as a child you know. The difference should surprise you, and should give you a keener sense of how to connect with your young readers. Above all, it should help you give them the simple gift of being understood.

Emma Walton Hamilton
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