Wednesday, August 21st, 2019


The third word in Jane Yolen’s list of “Ten Words Every Picture Book Author Should Know” is Child-Centeredness.

I’ve written about this in previous blog posts, but it bears repeating: the heroes, or protagonists, of children’s books must be characters that young readers can identify with and relate to.  Jane takes this notion one step further.  She says that children’s books must have “emotional resonance” for young readers, and adds that the way to achieve this is by focusing on “The Three F’s,” or thee key areas of concern for children, which are:

1) Family

2) Friendship

3) Frustration

Most – if not all – children’s books have at their heart one of these elements, giving the book that essential child-centeredness with which the young reader can relate to, and be drawn in by, the story. Some have more than one, others a combination of all three.

Here’s one dictionary definition of child centeredness:

“Designed to promote a child’s personal qualities rather than to provide training or information. Humane – marked or motivated by concern with the alleviation of suffering.”

This, I think, ties in well with what Jane is getting at when she talks about writing with emotional resonance.  Writing children’s books well requires more than just writing skill.  It requires compassion for children, and a keen understanding of the frustrations, challenges and concerns they face on a daily basis in the struggle to grow up. Our work needn’t be steeped in pathos – in fact, kids usually prefer humor – but we also shouldn’t get preachy or didactic or try to educate or problem-solve. We need only maintain a compassionate heart and a child-like sensibility, something perhaps best achieved by remembering what it was like to be a child ourselves.


4 Responses to “Child-Centeredness”
  1. Beth says:

    Aha! That’s what was missing in some books I recently reviewed on my blog. I had eagerly brought home from the library a series of picture books based on the legends of King Arthur, as I have loved the story of Arthur and Merlin and Guinevere for such a long time. These picture books, however, were missing something. They were beautifully illustrated, but didn’t seem aimed toward children in my view, but rather seemed as though they’d be better understood by 12-year-olds or even older, kids who wouldn’t be wanting to read picture books (and The Once and Future King would be a much better fit for them, anyway!) That’s what was missing. Child-centeredness. There was frustration shown in some of what King Arthur experienced, but it wasn’t really a frustration children would understand. And so now my imagination is thinking “How would I tell those stories in a way that would engage and excite young children, and not end up sounding like a faint echo of Disney’s The Sword in the Stone?” It might be an interesting exercise, just as an exercise.

    In terms of my actual writing, Camelot-exercises aside, I think — because I often consider that I’ve never really stopped being a five year old inside — that I usually have a fairly good grip on child-centeredness, but it will be interesting to learn what an editor thinks of my attempts.

  2. Diane says:

    Thankyou for going into more depth with this topic:child centeredness
    This is an area I too think I have it covered. In my novel I know I have all three. In the picture book there would, I think, be two of these covered.

  3. Beth says:

    A picture book idea popped into my head when I woke this morning about an hour before the alarm was set to go off. By the time the alarm did go off, I’d worked out the first draft in my head, and when I got up I scurried to get it into the computer. I knew it needed revision right off the bat, because in the first draft the protagonist was an adult, but I just got it down the way it had come to me, and now, three hours later, I have the second draft written, with a child protagonist, more detail, and more action.

    As I say in the blog post I wrote about it, I will now go through the Just Write for Kids process to edit and revise further. You have given us such great tools to work with, Emma! Do you have any idea how much I, for one, appreciate what you have taught me and what you continue to teach me?

  4. Emma says:

    Thank you, Beth, and all who comment here. I am so happy you find these tools and materials to be of value. I, too, am developing a new picture book idea using all the Just Write for Kids plot maps, character development exercises, etc. so we’re all in it together!

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