Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holidays overwhelming you? Here are 3 easy ways to jingle readers’ bells.


How can you even think about writing with a holiday coming up?

Writing may be the last thing on your mind at this time of year.  So let’s get right to the point with three quick MUSTS you’ve just got to have in your children’s holiday book.  Don’t worry, they’re simple, too.

It doesn’t matter what holiday, either.  Easter, Chanukah, Shavuot, Eid, they’re all totally different… but the best books have so much in common that you’re going to succeed no matter what you’re writing about.

1) STORY. 

Do you love a great story?  So do kids.  Unless you’re writing nonfiction (and maybe even then), you’ll want to make sure your book has a good, solid story.  That almost always means tension.  Your character shouldn’t just wake up, prepare for the holiday, celebrate the holiday, and go to bed happy.  That’s not a story; it’s a diary entry, and not a very interesting one.

Save your story by giving your character a real problem.

  Like in Lauren Wohl’s book The Eighth Menorah (illustrated by Laura Hughes), where Sam realizes that, since his family already has seven menorahs, the one he’s making in school is going to be useless.  Unless, that is, he finds some special purpose for it (I hope I don’t spoil the book for you when I say that he does!).

image from The Eighth Menorah, by Lauren Wohl

2) TWIST. 

To succeed in 2015 and beyond, your book must grab the reader with a twist, something unexpected that makes it stand out from the dozens (or hundreds) that are already out there. 

There’s a reason that Lisa Tawn Bergren’s God Gave Us Christmas (illustrated by David Hohn) has 226 excellent reviews in a market flooded with terrific Christmas books.  It dares to ask the question many children will think at first is off limits:  “Is God more important than Santa?”  Little Cub’s questions are adorable, but more importantly, they startle readers of all ages into paying attention and asking questions of their own.

image from God Gave Us Christmas, by Lisa Tawn Bergren


Your book is about one specific religion and its festival, but you should make sure that its themes and characters are ones kids of any faith can relate to. 

Sylvia Whitman does this perfectly in her Under the Ramadan Moon (illustrated by Sue Williams).  She brings together short, poetic text about the month of Ramadan with gorgeous paintings of parents and kids doing things all parents and kids love to do together, like swinging in a swing.

image from Under the Ramadan Moon, by Sylvia Whitman

(I love that this isn’t how most of us would picture Ramadan – unless we grew up Muslim in a family this universal and loving!)

Lots of writers take a break at this time of year.  If that’s you, just bookmark this post and come back to it later.  But try to jot down ideas as they come to you and save them for when it’s less hectic.  Don’t worry about getting all the details down right now while you’re busy with other things.

Later on, when you sit down to write, just stir these 3 ingredients together:  a story, a twist, and universal appeal, and you’ll have a book that jumps out from the crowd.

Are you wondering if it’s worth it to write a holiday book, if it’ll only sell for 1-2 months of the year?  Absolutely!  Holiday books are very keyword-friendly, and they can be an essential jumping off point to help parents, teachers (and ultimately kids) find your books.

Just make an early resolution to come back to this page when you’re less busy.  I promise, it’ll help you get ready for the next holiday season – and get those readers’ bells jingling – well ahead of time.

How do you hang onto your best holiday story ideas?  Share your thoughts in the Comments!


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