into your Ew!, Phew!, and Cool! - Think like a kid.
Lead with the gross, icky,
unusual, weird, hilarious, or very cool aspects of your topic.
Sure, a giraffe has a long tongue, but tell kids it's long enough for
the giraffe to clean its ears with it (Ew, gross!), and you've hooked
them into reading more.
Play with words.
puns, homonyms, onomatopoeia, alliteration, double meanings,
and lo-o-o-o-o-ong words as you would spice to a meal---sometimes a
little is enough, and sometimes you want a big dose to heat things
up. Have fun.
as though you're talking to one child from your target audience; use a
friendly, informal style; vary sentence length and structure; ask
questions; sprinkle in a few sentence fragments and a "Wow!",
"Aha!" or "No kidding!", if appropriate. Pssst...you
can even start a sentence or two with "and" or
Try Unusual Formats.
of straight narrative, consider turning your subject matter into a
mystery, quiz, awards show, puzzle, or ???.
Link new information to something kids already know.
similes and metaphors; compare sizes of new objects to familiar
ones---as tall as a basketball net, as long as your arm, or calculate
how many jam sandwiches a 10-year-old must eat to eat the same as a
fruit bat per body weight. Make sure references are
relevant---most kids today don't know about typewriters and dial
experiments, simulations...editors love them, but never get
enough. A simple activity could take a few sentences in a larger
article (e.g. a finger on a balloon makes noise like a violin, or
cupping your hand around your ear helps you hear better), or become a
self-contained companion article or sidebar with list of equipment and
Use storytelling techniques.
made-up stuff in nonfiction. Stick to the facts, but try things
like writing in second person---"you" puts the child in the
story and makes it much more immediate. "Imagine you've just
landed on Mars. You'd see..."
Narrow your topic.
specific; instead of writing about "frogs", or even one
species of frog, go for a narrow slice. Try "survival
techniques of tadpoles in fast streams", "frog hospital saves
frogs from roadkill death", or "how frogs breathe", or
"when frogs have three legs".
Use reliable sources.
when possible; go for the best experts to interview (you'll be surprised
how often they say yes); get at least three independent sources for
every fact; and remember, anyone can put up a website that says anything,
so be very careful about internet sources.
Know your market.
your homework to make sure you're sending your work to the right
editor---what an editor has published in the past is a big clue to what
they will purchase in the future; follow publisher guidelines.
Do photo research.
don't have to acquire or shoot the pictures, but as you're researching,
note possibilities and ask your sources about availability.
Experts are often more than happy to have their personal pics accompany
an article or appear in a book they've helped with. Point an
editor toward fresh images and you'll be worth your weight in gold.
Bayrock is the author of BUBBLE HOME AND FISH FARTS (Charlesbridge)
and several other quirky science books for kids. Her news items,
activities and feature articles have appeared
regularly in YESMag, Odyssey, WILD, Highlights for Children and several
educational databases. She
is constantly in search of the "Aha!", clever puns, and her
coffee. This article first appeared in Smart Writers Journal, July