Writing Serious Subject Matter for Children 

 March 31, 2021

One question that comes up pretty frequently is “How do you deal with dark or difficult topics in children’s books?”

There’s no doubt that writing a children’s book about serious subject matter is hard. But it’s also incredibly important.

While most children’s books have a light-hearted tone, there is also a place to guide our children into difficult conversations.

Maybe you want to write a book about coping with grief, addressing mental health, discussing abuse, etc. But, how do you address topics like that with children?

When we write stories about sensitive subject matter, we need to consider these things:

1. Is this message appropriate for children? 

You want to make sure that the overall message of your book is appropriate for children. For serious topics, it’s usually best to keep things general. Avoid including details when depicting potentially traumatic events. 

Instead, focus on the feelings of the characters or the conversations they have regarding the situation. ALWAYS provide hope for the survivor of your story.

2. Am I treating this topic with respect and consideration?

Remember that some of your readers may be children or adults who are presently dealing with your subject matter. It’s important to make sure you talk about it in a respectful way. This includes doing the research necessary to ensure you’re representing the subject matter appropriately. 

It’s essential to make sure your story empowers those who are coping with your topic. Uplift and encourage the survivor in your book.

3. Consider using animal characters instead of children.

It’s always a good idea to distance the reader from your story. 

One way to do this is to tell your story through the lens of an analogy. You might make your main characters non-human or personify the struggle your character is facing. 

For example, if a child is lost in the woods in a book, that simply won’t do for young audiences. This brings up all sorts of problems. For example, a reader could be distracted by: “Where are the parents? How did they get lost?” 

Remember, the story is not about the parents. The story is about the child, or the “hero.” If, instead, a rabbit or puppy gets lost in the woods, the same emotions and principles can be communicated.

You’ll find this method has been used for a long time in children’s literature. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many animals in children’s books, this is one very good reason.

I hope you found this helpful. It can be difficult to know how to approach a particular topic, but by doing your research, being considerate, and slipping in some writing tricks, you can write a book that helps children deal with difficult topics.

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