Tuesday, April 22, 2014

‘Tis the season – write holiday books that don’t spell HUMBUG (Part 2 of 2)

happy holidays!What the heck is a holiday-books post doing here in April? And not just any post – this is Part 2 of a 2-part series! (Click here to read Part 1 first.)

Well, for one thing, not all of us celebrate our main holiday in December. Plus, if you’re thinking of writing or wrapping a book aimed at the December holiday season, April is actually a great time to be planning it.

In Part 1, we looked at four big Do’s and Don’ts to help get you on the right track.  Now, we’re going to look at one final question you need to ask yourself before you sit down to write – who are you writing for???

buy Rashad's Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, by Lisa Bullard

Finding your audience

Is your book aimed at kids and families who celebrate the holiday, or those who don’t?

As a religious Jew, I can’t tell you how many Chanukah books I decided were ultimately inappropriate for my family because they explain too much.

After about age three, my kids knew everything there was to know about Chanukah, Passover, or any other Jewish holiday – they didn’t need instruction on the basics. Yet a lot of books do just that, because they’re aimed at a different kind of audience.

As a writer, you need to decide who’s going to be reading the book (primarily), and write your book squarely for that group. That doesn’t mean others won’t read it, but having a sense of audience will dictate the tone of your book and ensure that it has a bit of a “guaranteed” readership.

So who are you writing for?

buy My First Kwanzaa, by Karen KatzPeople who celebrate the holiday…

If your book is aimed at kids and families who have celebrated the holiday their whole lives, you’ll want to leave out the basics, or inject them in subtle ways that don’t condescend.

For example, having Dad sit down with a six-year-old to explain that “Christmas is the birthday of baby Jesus” is a little silly, at least without some further explanation, as the child would presumably have heard something like this his whole life.

Most families don’t celebrate holidays for the first time, so “My First Kwanzaa” (for any reader over about 2) would probably also not ring true – unless, as part of the story, the family has decided to start celebrating. An example of this would be a family who moves to the United States so they really are celebrating their first Thanksgiving.

buy The Christmas Story, by Jane Werner WatsonPeople who don’t celebrate the holiday…

On the other hand, if your book is aimed at a general audience, you will need to explain the basics, in a way that won’t offend or alienate those who celebrate the holiday.

Here’s where you need to understand not only your subject matter, but who’s going to be reading it!

For example, a book that says, “Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas” is going to drive every Jewish reader nuts, while misinforming every non-Jewish reader who doesn’t know that’s a lie. You may need to research a little if you’re writing a book for an audience who primarily doesn’t share your faith to make sure you don’t overstate or misstate something about their own belief system.

The biggest mistake if you’re writing in this area is making assumptions: assuming that everybody knows the basics of the American Thanksgiving story (I didn’t, growing up Canadian!) or what Easter is all about (beyond the bunny, many children don’t).

My own kids were fascinated, growing up, by books that treated Christmas and Easter, along with other faiths’ observances, like Ramadan, Eid, Diwali and Naw Ruz, in the same way that Jewish festivals are treated in so many books – with a friendly introduction that covers all the basics and shows “typical” kids celebrating in various parts of the world.

buy Buddha, by DemiPeople who are a “bit of both”…

When my grandmother used to serve us kids ice cream, I could never decide which flavour to take, so my brother and I used to clamour, “bit of both!”

What if you can’t decide who’s going to be reading your book? Is it possible to write a holiday book for “bit of both” families and kids? Yes!

In fact, there’s an emerging market for books for families that are “half and half” – some members practice one religion and others practice another. For this kind of audience, your writing should assume that kids know something about the holiday, but perhaps not too much. They may have observed Christmas at an aunt’s house, for example, but not celebrate it themselves in their own home or be aware of the nativity story.

If you choose this type of audience, you have to find a careful balance. Too much explaining is boring. You also have to have a good sense of the age group you’re writing for so you can give them just enough information without overloading them.

Building a great story

For this last group, in particular, it really helps to have a great story. Instead of just telling dry facts about the holiday, present a child who has some kind of conflict in his or her life. It doesn’t have to be a huge conflict to be interesting.

In Lauren Wohl’s book, The Eighth Menorah, the main character is conflicted because his family already has more than enough menorahs for Chanukah (you really only need one!), yet his class has been told that they have to make a new one.

He has to find a way that his own little menorah can find a purpose – and it turns out that purpose is accomplished by using it to help others and spread the joy of the season.

buy the Eighth Menorah, by Lauren Wohl

No matter what kind of audience you’re writing for, a great story is always going to succeed over a list of dry facts or a historical recounting.

No matter who…

One last idea to enrich your book is to include activities. Ann Koffsky did that with great success in her latest Passover book, Frogs in the Bed: My Passover Seder Activity Book. In fact, the book itself is really just a short, cute song, accompanied by several pages of activities.

buy Frogs in the Bed, by Ann Koffsky click for more info (external link)

Whether they know a lot about the holiday or not, most kids can get into general activities like cut-and-paste, colouring pages or mazes…. and sometimes not even realize they’re learning along the way.

You just have to find a way to a) connect it to the holiday, and b) make it original enough that they’re not going to think it’s just “busywork,” but rather, a meaningful way to spend their time and prepare for the festival.

Holiday books for kids are a great way to explore not only what’s specific about us and our faiths or nationalities, but what’s universal – the things we all share.

Have you written a holiday book??  Tell us all about it here (include a link if you want)! What holiday would you CHOOSE to write about if you could?

2 comments:

  1. Lots of great advice here. I will take it to heart. On a quiet day, when you have a few minutes, I would love it if you would read over my LentenJourney2014.com blog (or the Lenten Journey page a Pi-SunyerNaturally.com), and let me know if I have missed the mark on any of my essays dealing with your faith. Yours and mine are so intertwined it is impossible to tell our Easter story without telling your Passover story. If you ever want a review or input on the Christian stories and traditions, I would be tickled pink to lend a hand. My Lenten Journey obviously isn't targeted to kids. Just so you know I know that. :) I'm a minister's granddaughter and Director of Christian Education's daughter and have done a lot of research as well as growing up in the faith.

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    1. Sounds fascinating - I'd love to take a look and leave comments if it's open to comments. I'll try to do it tomorrow, though we're just gearing up to get back to business as usual after the holiday here. Thanks, Nancy, for stopping by!

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