Sittin’ On The Porch – Author Fran Orenstein – Tips for Writing Children’s Books

Happy New Year Everyone. It already looks like 2016 is going to be a great year. Today on the porch, I have award winning author Fran Orenstein, and she’s got some great information to share with us on writing for children.   This is a two-parter, so you’ll want to tune in next week too.  There was so much good information to share, I asked Fran to come back. So I’m going to lean back, relax and enjoy my sweet tea, while she shares.


If you are a writer, you must be a reader. If you write for children, then you loved books as a child. I grew up at the library, where my mother took me two or three times a week after school. Reading was her favorite past-time and she was a story-teller, too. Not surprising that I grew up reading and writing my first poem at age eight. Mom was also a saver, so I have all the tiny, stapled books I wrote as a child, as well as poems and short stories. I read and read, from the Little House on the Prairie series at seven, to the Bobbsey Twin mysteries at eight and the Nancy Drew books until I graduated to adult books at twelve because there was nothing back then for ‘tweens and teens. When I ran out of books, I read cereal boxes and milk bottles and my mother’s magazines. This inspired me to send off a short story to McCall’s magazine, another topic of conversation…the cruelty of publishing.
Now I write for kids ages from about seven to adult, because adults still enjoy ‘tween and teen books. I do have several adult novels and poetry books published and in the works, but my joy is still writing for kids. There are misconceptions by the public and authors alike, such as, writing for children is easy, anyone can write a kids book. After all:
I was a kid
I know kids
I’m a parent/teacher/camp counselor, nanny
I read a lot of books as a kid

Writing for children is harder because there are rules: Rules about length, vocabulary, language, topic, characterization, to illustrate or not to illustrate, and content.

  • The most important rules apply to individual age groups, reading alone or with minimal help from an adult.
    • Longer books for advanced readers, 14pt font, 1.5 line spacing. More advanced vocabulary.
    • Ages 9-13: ‘Tween or Middle Grade novels
      • Usually between 150 and 250 pages or more thanks to the Harry Potter books, which grew larger and larger with each book until they topped out around 700 pages.
      • The storyline is more mature, but still within the range of understanding of this age group
      • Generally there are no illustrations
      • The child reads silently and alone, or the books can be read aloud by an adult, older sibling, or shared reading.
    • Young adult or Teen novels
      • Usually 200 to 400+ pages
      • Read silently and alone
      • No illustrations
      • More mature in nature…can have edgy language and subject matter.

What about the topics or genre?

In ‘Tween, Teen, and sometimes in chap books, the genres can include thriller, mystery, mystery romance, coming-of-age, significant issues of the age group, sci fi, mysteries, fantasy and nearly everything you would find in an adult novel, but scaled down to the understanding and experiences of a young person. Consider serial killers, murder descriptions, erotica and such as a no-no.
Vocabulary is very important

  • Rule 1: Within the range of understanding of the middle-of-the-road of the particular age group. We all don’t read James Joyce or William Shakespeare, and people read the Reader’s Digest version of the hottest new romance novel. The child’s level of maturity and reading/comprehension levels also determine what level suits the child. There are five year-olds reading on a fourth grade level, and twelve-year-olds reading on a third grade level.
  • Rule 2: NEVER TALK DOWN TO OR PREACH TO A CHILD as it’s the quickest way to turn him off to your book and reading in general.
  • Rule 3: Do try to challenge the reader, but not frustrate her.


  • Contrary to believe, children love conflict. Examples are the Harry Potter Books or The Hunger Games – conflict, conflict, conflict.
    • A protagonist and antagonist are necessary to the action. Sometimes the antagonist is not human or animal, but can be a situation.
    • Show Don’t Tell: this is one of the most important rules. Children need to visualize what’s happening. (especially in this day and age of the constant bombardment of visual stimulation)
      • Use dialogue and action to move the plot.
      • The secondary characters need to be important to moving the story along or get rid of them.
      • If there a pages or paragraphs that don’t move the story along, beautiful as they are, highlight, cut, weep and save them for another time.
      • Obstacles in the hero’s way. The hero and friends resolve these problems or overcome obstacles, not adults. Adults can peripherally help with issues unsolvable by the child hero because of age or power. Think of the perfection of the Witch and the Wardrobe series. Four siblings of different ages band together to get through each of the obstacles before them.
        Holes by Louis Sacher, one of my favorite ‘tween/teen books is filled with children overcoming the terrible life they have been forced to endure.  All my books for ‘tweens and teens place young people in serious situations that they come through with a little help from their friends, and in some cases supernatural/fantasy beings.

Fran, this is some great information. I can’t wait until next week when we can hear the rest.

To learn more about Fran and her books, visit my Porch Guests page.

Until next week!



About Kelly Abell

I am a writer, blogger, and graphic artist. My aim for you is to utilize this blog to help you improve your writing skills, and to educate you on the publishing business. If you need help with writing, want to self-publish a book and need advice, or just want to kick a story idea around to see what works best, that's what I'm here for. As I gain knowledge from editors and publishers, I will share that knowledge with you. As writers we should always strive to improve our craft and grow. A day should not pass where you haven't learned or tried something new with your writing. Many thanks to my Night Owl Friend, Lea Ellen Borg for editing my posts! Best to you and all your characters and stories. Write on, my friends...Write on.
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4 Responses to Sittin’ On The Porch – Author Fran Orenstein – Tips for Writing Children’s Books

  1. annette123456 says:

    Fran’s so knowledgeable


  2. Pingback: Blogger Bouquet #33 | Jennifer's Journal

  3. Hi Kelly we’re new to your blog by way of mutual friend Jennifer (Jennifer’s Journal) We really enjoyed this post & Fran is awesome. We will be sharing this with our writing community & look forward to stopping by & reading more. Thanks for this 😉


    • Kelly Abell says:

      Welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I agree. Fran is awesome. Please stop by often as I have a lot to share with my readers. If you know of anyone or if you’d like to “sit on the porch” let me know.


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