Learn how to write and illustrate engaging stories for children and young adults with our experts
Children and teenagers know what they want to find in a book: adventure, fantasy, humor, originality, and many surprise elements to escape from boredom. If you are an author searching for a young audience, you’ll need to create that magic, both with words and illustrations.
So, if you want to publish a book, you’ll need to master several techniques and work on a whole set of elements: plot, characters, language, and images. But, keep your eyes on the prize: your work will bring them enjoyment and excitement, and above all, will make them think.
What do children’s and young people’s books have in common?
To bring out the writer and illustrator inside you, you’ll need to know certain features typical of these genres. The main ones are the following:
- Simple stories with profound meaning and messages that can teach something.
- The images also have a central role. But, likewise, the relationship between the text and illustration can be either complementary or contradictory, depending on the message.
- For children’s illustration especially, there is a free approach for using techniques: you can equally use collage, ink, watercolors, acrylics, or even pop-ups.
Tips for writing children’s and young people’s books
Natalia Méndez (@natumendez) has been turning ideas into children's books for 17 years. Since 2012, she's been working as a publisher, language teacher and is a specialist in children's literature. She also manages the children's and teenage literature department for the Argentinean branch of Edelvives publishing. Her tips to those who wish to start out in this world come from years of experience:
- If your story is long, make sure the plot is excellent and that the narrative structure transcends the topic, as the latter is not the most interesting thing when you're thinking of what to write.
- Avoid names that are overused, rhyming, or sounding too malevolent, as they remove humor from the characters.
- Do not overuse diminutives and adjectives. Develop language that builds the atmospheres and the settings of the story.
- Careful not to use stereotypes and clichés. You can write fast without thinking not to lose momentum, but make sure your language is mindful when you re-read it.
- Don't think that sweet is synonymous with interesting, and do not soften your story. Take your readers' perspective and always be honest.
How do you illustrate a child or teenager?
The moment comes when you have to design the protagonists of your story. What's most important? Teresa Martínez (@teresa_mtz), an illustrator specializing in children and young people's publications, helps you construct attractive and charismatic characters aimed at a young audience. Follow these concepts to make this as easy as pie.
By playing with squares, circles, and triangles, you can achieve brilliant expressivity, personality, and attitude for your characters. For example, a square reflects seriousness, whereas a circle reminds us of tranquility.
Draw a line across the body, from head to toes. Depending on being curved or straight, it will imply the attitude of the character.
Think about the relationship in size of all the various body parts of the character: head, torso, and legs, especially.
Facial features and caricature
You will achieve various effects depending on how you will place and size your character's facial features.
12 Online Courses For Creating Books for Children and Young People
It is said that to write children's stories you have to become a child yourself, free your imagination and allow yourself to be amazed. If you're down with it, check out what the following experts can tell you to guide you through the process.
Do you know the difference between an illustrated book and an illustrated album? Find out with Flavia Zorrilla Drago, author of many illustrated albums for children of all ages. In her course, you will learn about the basic narrative principles and find brilliant ideas for creating your own illustrated album.
Flavia has collaborated with publishers Combel, Petra, Delete Dog, Walker Books, and the Mexican Secretariat of Culture.
If you look back to your childhood, you'll surely find a story that can inspire your literary creation. To this end, illustrator and writer Paloma Valdivia will share some resources and give you some tools to create a diary fool of thoughts and ideas.
Little by little, you'll shape your illustrated stories, refining your sketches and applying different coloring techniques. Paloma's books have been translated into more than 20 languages and awarded several international prizes, including The Best Book Awards from UNESCO.
One idea is enough to make you want to tell it with words and drawings. Author and illustrator Claudia Rueda can take you through the full process, from planning your children's album book to creating a final mock-up.
You will then be able to set out on your own and amaze your readers, just as she did. Claudia has published more than 30 books, many bestsellers, as mentioned in the New York Times. In addition, her work has been nominated to important international awards, including Hans Christian Andersen.
ABC books are created in cardboard and are aimed at babies and toddlers from 0 to 3 years of age. Carlos Higuera, illustrator and designer, specializing in children's books, gives you tips on finding your style, storytelling, defining your characters, and choosing the best typography for this format.
Using his distinctive style, Carlos has worked in advertising and created many children's books for major international publishing companies, such as EDelvives, Santillana, and Macmillan. His illustrations are full of quirky characters in amusing settings.
Having a general vision of the children's book publishing world can help you develop your own stories. This course will introduce you to literary genres, their role in telling a good story, and the editing process of a children's book.
Natalia Méndez, publisher, author, and lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), will show you her particular ways to turn your ideas into children's stories. With 17 years' experience in this field, she will share tips for editing your project, choosing a publishing company, or self-publishing your book.
An illustrator defines their style in their strokes, lines, colors, and the feeling suggested to the viewers. In this course, you will learn to develop an idea graphically, by building a visual narrative for an illustrated book.
Teacher, author, and illustrator Weberson Santiago will guide you step-by-step through a set of exercises. Having published many books and projects for children throughout his career, Weberson is a celebrated figure within the Portuguese and Brazilian publishing industry.
Imagine using music to inspire your children's or young person's book. Such is the creative process of illustrator/musician Roger Ycaza, who shares this in his course. You will develop a book, defining all elements—concept, characters, typography, and color—starting from a song.
Roger found his place as an author and co-author—mainly children's and young adults' books—and his illustrated stories are punctuated by music, his other passion.
What is a storyboard, and how do you create one? As one of the main topics included in this course, it is key to developing your story. You will study examples to create your own sketches following the creative process of Rafael Yockteng, a children's and young adult's literature illustrator.
Throughout his career, Rafael has worked for publishers Babel Libros, Groundwood Books, and Cataplum, among others. In his opinion, storytelling is the best way to build relationships among human beings. What is important is not only what the author writes but also what the reader makes of it.
Get to know all the stages needed to create a children's or young person's book, from conceiving the ideas to its promotion on various media. If you are passionate about the editorial world, you will learn all you need with designer and publisher John Naranjo.
In his course, he will guide you through a whole reference album book's pre-production, production, and post-production processes. After founding Rey Naranjo Editores publishing company, John has published more than 70 titles. His life is truly dedicated to books.
The foldable books you'll be able to create for your little readers are engineered paper pieces. Silvia Hijano Coullaut, founder of Libracos studio and an expert in this type of publication, will teach you the pop-up technique in its different stages: cutting, folding, assembling, and binding.
Silvia has been involved in film productions and various agencies throughout her career, demonstrating that this creative method offers many opportunities.
If you discover that pop-up books are your passion, you should keep learning more advanced techniques with Silvia Hijano Coullaut. The founder of Libracos studio, she creates hand-made pieces that tell unique stories and offer quirky and impactful experiences.
In her course, you will create a foldable map booklet, which also works as a pop-up book.
You do not need any previous experience for this course as you will learn the full process to create your own book in your desired size.
Do you like working with paper? Using paper cutting techniques, you can connect to the process of creating in a very intuitive way. Getting to know some tricks will help you in this process. In this course, you'll discover some of the best techniques and you will learn how to incorporate them into your stories.
Karishma Chugani, illustrator, fashion designer, and founder of L'École de Papier, will walk you through the world of paper cutting, and set you a challenge: creating a theater book. Although you'll create a flat piece, the effect will be one of great depth and perspective.
Have you ever wondered why some of these books are also recommended to grown-ups? It's because their authors have created illustrated stories that send us into a universe where anything is possible, whatever our age. And who would pass on such an opportunity?
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