It’s every writer’s dream, isn’t it, to create a timeless classic? To craft a story that appeals to thousands, and continues to bring joy, wonder, and comfort long after we are gone. Books like:
- Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
- Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon
- E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web
These books contain magical ingredients that stand the test of time.
What are these ingredients? Several accomplished, award-winning children’s book authors, editors, and publishers shared their thoughts on what makes a children’s book timeless. Their answers are below. My hope is that you glean at least one piece of advice to inspire, improve, or motivate your writing. If you haven’t begun to craft your story, then hopefully one will trigger a brand new story idea for you! But before we dive in:
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And now, what makes a children’s book timeless…
MAKE IT TIMELESS TIP #1. CREATE A TOTALLY IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE
“You need to create a totally immersive experience. It’s the true essence of what makes a story, undiluted by extra characters and subplots. Consider every detail when creating your book, from the tone of the art to the thickness of the paper.”
Award-winning author of children’s books Grumbler, Joyride, and Pling’s Party, Arielle Haughee is the owner of Orange Blossom Publishing, an editor, speaker, consultant, and Executive Vice President for the Florida Writers Association.
“Make sure each element blends together to make the story come alive for children in a magical way. Matching the physical elements of the book to the character and theme of your story creates excellent immersion for the reader. If you ensure everything on the inside and outside of the book is the best quality and shares a lasting message you will have a timeless children’s book.”
MAKE IT TIMELESS TIP #2. MAKE A CONNECTION WITH THEIR HEART
“It all comes down to emotional connection. If your book finds a place inside a reader’s heart, it will stay there forever.”
Laura Backes is a Random House published author, editor, agent, educator, and the publisher of Children’s Book Insider, Children’s Writing Monthly, and co-founder of WritingBlueprints.com. She says what makes a book timeless is…
“Emotional connection. Create it with relatable and honestly crafted characters who participate in a story built upon universal emotions of childhood. Combine these with vivid settings, well-flowing dialogue and a warm author voice and you have the recipe for a classic.”
MAKE IT TIMELESS TIP #3. GIVE THEM AN UNFORGETTABLE MAIN CHARACTER
“Write a children’s book with a unique character. This is the key to creating a timeless book. With a great character, it doesn’t matter if you have a common plot because a compelling character will take the reader on a completely unique journey through new eyes. (Think: Harry Potter, The Cat in the Hat, The Little Engine That Could, etc.)”
Author Brooke Van Sickle has won multiple awards for her children’s books including the Moonbeam Children’s Award, the Royal & Purple Dragonfly Awards, and Mom’s Choice for honoring excellence in children’s books.
MAKE IT TIMELESS TIP #4. EXPLORE WHAT KIDS REALLY CARE ABOUT
“In the world of middle grade novels, a timeless story is characterized by connection. If a young reader devours a book while hiding under their covers with a flashlight, a connection has been made. If a young reader gasps, and pauses, and holds the book next to their heart for a moment before continuing, a connection has been made. If a young reader wakes up in the morning, worrying about the main character, a connection has been made.”
Middle Grade publisher and senior editor at Chicken Scratch Books, Kiri Jorgensen, continues, “So how does a writer build that connection? It’s all about the character. Middle grade readers have to relate to the character’s choices, voice, and motive. When they can relate, understand, and appreciate those elements, they’ll dive into completely foreign worlds so they can continue to connect to the character they love.”
MAKE IT TIMELESS #5. CHOOSE UNIVERSAL THEMES THAT STAND THE TEST OF TIME
“Relatability is another word for the underlying themes that relate to children’s lived experiences and curiosities according to their age level. By unearthing what the real themes below your story are about, you get to see if your story has universal underlying themes that will stand the test of time. Balance emotion and action so it’s not all emotion or all action. Action or movement keeps your story lively to avoid boredom and emotion keeps us engaged on a heart level.”
Former literary agent and university professor Mira Reisberg is an award-winning author/illustrator, the acquiring editor and art director at Clearfork Publishing/Spork, and the founder of the Children’s Book Academy, an international children’s book writing and illustrating school.
Now it’s your turn
Which of these 5 timeless methods of storytelling would you like to try? If you love these ideas, but want more detailed help on how to DO everything listed above…
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Stacy Juba, the founder of Shortcuts for Writers, is a freelance editor and online course creator who teaches authors how to simplify the self-editing process and fit their writing goals into a busy life. Her books include the Storybook Valley chick lit series and the Hockey Rivals young adult sports novels.
Sign up for her free, on-demand masterclass, How to Create Your Editing Game Plan and Fast-Track Your Book: 3 Costly Mistakes to Avoid.