The Best Advice, by Anthony D. Fredericks

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

The Best Advice!

The lattes were excellent, and we were enjoying a long conversation at a local coffee shop. Both writers, we were sharing some of the things learned over decades of writing experience and dozens of published books. My friend asked, “What’s the best advice you’ve shared with prospective children’s authors?” I thought for a moment and replied, “I think the best advice I could offer any writer is that, if you want to be successful, you must read children’s books on a regular basis.”

Interestingly, when I’m introduced to folks who express a desire to pen a children’s or YA book, many believe that just because they’ve raised some children (and told them stories at bedtime) or volunteered at their child’s school, they are ready to write their own book for kids. Unfortunately, just being around kids does not adequately prepare one for writing children’s literature. We need to immerse ourselves in the culture of children’s literature. We need to know the language, the themes, the concepts, the tenor, and the presentations. And, the ONLY way to do that is to read children’s or adolescent literature on a regular basis . . . every day!

As I frequently share with aspiring authors, if they are not reading children’s books, they are putting themselves at a severe disadvantage. The books they read as former students are not the same kind of books kids read today. Reading current literature—on a regular basis—has enormous benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Introduces you to a wide range of authorial styles.
  • Shows you language patterns that resonate with readers.
  • Gets you in a literary mindset that sharpens your focus and hones your perspective.
  • Demonstrates how other authors address the beginning, middle, and ends of stories.  
  • Gives you the opportunity to compare good stories with bad stories.  
  • Allows you to see how different authors handle similar themes.  

By studying the diverse ways of presenting a story, we give ourselves an education available nowhere else. Reading a wide selection of books opens our eyes to the infinite variety of storytelling techniques and the ways in which we might approach a topic or issue.  

As you read all those children’s books, here are a few questions you may want to consider. You might, as I often do, decide to record the responses to the following questions:

  • What did I enjoy most (or least) about this book?
  • How did the author introduce and describe the main character?
  • What would readers like most (or least) about this book?
  • What did the author do to establish the setting for this book?
  • How did the author deal with conflict/resolution?
  • How did the author help me create mental images about what was happening in the story?
  • How did the author demonstrate their respect for me as a reader?
  • Why would I want to read (or not read) another book by this author?
  • What did the author do that kept me turning the pages?

Here’s the absolute key to success: If you want to write children’s/YA books you have to read children’s/YA books! One without the other is like vacationing in Maui without going to the beach or a lemon meringue pie without a crust. They’re only half-complete! Read, and keep reading, lots of children’s or adolescent literature and you will notice a decided improvement in your own abilities to craft stories . . . memorable stories . . . for a new generation of readers.

Here are a few pertinent quotes on why writers need to be readers:

  • “Reading inspires writing. It always has. Writing is a way to say ‘thank you’ to the authors who have touched our lives.” —Joe Bunting, author
  • “The way I am as a writer comes very much out of what I want as a reader.” —David Foster Wallace, author
  • “I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500—you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write.” —Madeleine L’Engle, children’s author
  • “I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they ‘don’t have time to read.’ This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.” —Stephen King, author
  • Okay, it’s time to end this month’s column. I have a book to read!


    Tony is an award-winning author of more than four dozen children’s books. In addition, he has written the critically acclaimed 10,000 Writing Ideas: Essential Strategies for Every Writer (https://amzn.to/3u2WDdH ). [“From one of the most creative and innovative authors of our time, 10,000 Writing Ideas is a resource that you will find informative and inspirational.” —5 stars]

    NOTE:  If you are interested in the latest tips, strategies, and ideas about creativity, you should check out Tony’s monthly newsletter: Creatively Speaking: Ideas to Ignite Your Creative Fires (https://www.smore.com/3xnpk-creatively-speaking). It’s a quick read packed with solid information and insights.   

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