What the heck is a holiday-books post doing here in April? And not just any post – this is Part 1 of a 2-part series. (Click here to read Part 2.)
Well, for one thing, not all of us celebrate our main holiday in December. Plus, if you’re thinking of writing or wrapping up a book aimed at the December holiday season, April is actually a great time to be planning it.
Certainly, when you’re in the thick of holiday excitement is NOT the time to think you can take time out to write your best work.
Since I myself have a major holiday coming up in 2 days, I have been procrastinating – big time. And you, my friends, are the big, big winners.
Here, in Part 1 of this 2-part series on “Writing Kids’ Holiday Books,” are some quick Do’s and Don’ts to help you get those holiday kids’-book juices flowing.
DO get fired up with holiday excitement
Figure out what you love the most about the holiday you’re writing about… and then capture that excitement on paper. (Well, monitor – but you know what I mean.)
Frankly, I’ve seen a lot of bad kids’ holiday books out there, many of them self-published (hint:
search for the words “Children’s Book” in the Kindle section of Amazon.com). I honestly don’t know why people bother, but perhaps if they charge only a buck or two for a Kindle edition of their holiday book, they can make a bit of money no matter how bad the book is.
There are even some FREE holiday books out there, but many aren’t worth the time and energy to download because they don’t really have any holiday excitement to them whatsoever. (And believe me, I normally adore free stuff!)
I found a bunch of Christmas counting books on Amazon (they’re free in the Kindle department) which are all about “Christmas animals” – pandas, walruses and whatnot. They’re illustrated with clip art and mainly revolve around counting the copy-and-pasted animal which appears on every page.
Books like these come from a place of cynicism that says that kids will read anything you hold up in front of them – and that writers will write anything that makes them a buck or two. They offer an at-best-generic storyline (“kitchen is a mess, kids pitch in, kitchen gets tidied, family celebrates wonderful holiday together”) that says nothing about the holiday and everything about “let’s just get this book over with.”
Dig down deep and make your book personal. Avoid generic lovey-dovey holiday-time stuff and figure out what gets your blood boiling, your cheeks flushing, your tummy gurgling about this particular celebration.
DON’T forget who you’re writing for
I’ll help you out here: Kids, kids, kids. You’re writing for kids.
One big booboo in holiday books is writing from a place of nostalgia. It’s not entirely a bad thing; who doesn’t get nostalgic, thinking about their childhood holidays? But no kid wants to read a story about “when I was young” unless there’s a fascinating story in there, too. Another problem with nostalgia: the assumption that childhood in some bygone era was, in effect, purer, more fun, more innocent or more anything than childhood today.
But don’t let that discourage you from writing down your holiday memories! Just make sure you remember what was soooo great about them when you were a kid.
Get back there with all your senses. Was it the smell of your mom’s cooking? The feel of cool air frosting the tip of your nose? The taste of hot buttered corn on the cob? (Okay, now I’m getting hungry here!)
Also bring in your sixth and seventh senses: adventure and fun. Nobody will read a book about a perfect kid who wakes up and proceeds to have the perfect day. Make something go wrong and you’ve got yourself a story: Does a dog steal the hot dogs off that Fourth of July picnic table? Does somebody sneak in and unwrap all the Christmas presents while everyone sleeps on December 24th? Does the wrong ingredient threaten to ruin the family’s Thanksgiving turkey?
DO think about the spirit of the holiday
I’ve seen a lot of kids’ books, many of them very successful, that could be about any holiday, anytime, anywhere. The message of a lot of mainstream holiday books seems to be, “the message of _____ [insert holiday name here] is sharing and loving.”
That’s very sweet and all, but I think there’s also a big place for books that show what’s special about each individual holiday.
It may mark your books as “niche,” but with the global market, there are a lot of parents looking for niche. For example, in one of my upcoming books, Penguin Rosh Hashanah, about the Jewish New Year, I wanted to go beyond the idea that “it’s all about family, friends, giving, or loving” – because those things are common to almost every holiday.
What’s special about Rosh Hashanah?
Well, we use that time of year to ask forgiveness from our friends and family. That’s special: it’s not something you do at Hallowe’en, Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter.
So I included that in my book, making it less of a “generic holiday” book and waaaay more of a Rosh Hashanah book (in my opinion).
I know I may alienate some readers along the way – families who don’t happen to use Rosh Hashanah as a time for talking about apologies and forgiveness – but I think it will more than make up for it in its appeal to families looking for a specific book about the message of this specific holiday.
(At least, I hope so!)
The biggie category that comes to mind here is the “reason for the season” Christmas books – the ones that unabashedly celebrate the birth of Jesus and its message for humanity. Even though my family and I are Jewish, and would probably never buy a book with that message, I can appreciate its honesty and realize there are thousands of Christian parents out there desperate for well-written books that do exactly that.
Whatever holiday you’re writing for, find a unique message at its core and find a way to share that message through your book.
DON’T weigh it down with morals
This brings me to my last don’t, and it’s a biggie. I’ve said before that forcing values into your book is the #1 Mistake of Writing Kids’ Books and I still believe it’s true.
So how can you be true the core message of the holiday without giving your book an awkward or forced moral tone?
As writer Darcy Pattison says, “We want stories that kids want to read over and over. We don’t want stories that adults think the kids need read over and over to them.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a moral in there. That doesn’t mean you can’t throw in values – even values that are very, very specific. But you’ve got to keep them secondary to the fun and the fabulous, strong story that kids are dying to read.
In my Penguin Rosh Hashanah book, for instance, I used humourous illustrations to get the ideas across. For example, when talking about asking for forgiveness, I wrote that the little penguin “can’t help stepping on a few toes,” with a photo of a baby penguin standing on its mama’s feet (something they do for warmth).
Make your book warm, fun, friendly and bursting with can’t-wait-to-celebrate excitement, and you’re well on your way to spreading holiday joy in a child’s heart with your writing.
Here, we’ve looked at four big Do’s and Don’ts to help get you on the right track. Now, click over to Part 2 of this 2-part series for one final question you need to ask yourself before you sit down to write…
While you’re waiting for Part 2… Which holiday is easiest or most fun to write about? Which is hardest, and why???