Do you like to be told what to do or how to do it?
Nobody does! Because children are new to life, to the world they are always being told what to do, what not to do, and how to do it. Adults are often solving the problems.
In a book a child can experience things that they normally would not at their age or things that are just new for them. They can think what they might do, learn from what the characters do. That’s why when writing for children we like to take the adult out when possible. It’s empowering for children to see someone besides an adult solve a problem.
Beside the fact that we all love a talking-hat-wearing giraffe, animals are often used in children’s books because a child can experience adult like behavior threw the animal character. For example, in my book No More Noisy Nights the main character moves into a house alone and finds that a ghost, boogey monster and pixie already occupy the house. When I was submitting this to editors, a reaction I got was that kids don’t want to read about adults and a child can’t move into a house alone. I knew both those things. I was planning for the story to use anthropomorphism. When animals act like humans. So a reader could feel what it is like to move into a new home where things might be unknown or scary. They could see how Jackson deals with it and think, hmm maybe I could do that too.
I wrote a lot of stories for Pockets Magazine. Each month there was a theme such as honesty, jealousy, thankfulness, etc. The goal of these stories was to show children learning about and dealing with the topics. So I might think of the lesson I wanted the story to portray. For example, honesty is important in big and little things and even adults struggle with it. Then I would think how can I show this without an adult providing the solution. In the story I wrote, the main character’s friend wouldn’t play a pirated video game. So our main character began to think about things he and his family did that weren’t honest. He challenged his family to a week of honesty in all things. So the kid characters learned from each other and had something to teach the adults.
Now there are adults in kids stories. Sometimes they are childlike and sometimes they do impart the wisdom. The goal is for them to lead to the “aha” moment, but not provide the solutions. In The Day I Ran Away, Grace tells her dad about her day as he tucks her in. In her mind it was a bad day and so she decided to run away. Mom is an integral part of the story and she does suggest the popup tent as an alternative to running away when Grace realizes she’s not allowed to cross the street. However mom still allows Grace to explore her feelings of anger and her need to run away, just in a safe way. And that also is something we want kids to see in stories. Adults that listen, try to understand and keep you safe.
So as you write or rewrite a story really exam the adults in the story. Are they necessary? Can you remove them? Can you keep their role to a minimum? Can another child help your character discover the solution? Or will your characters be talking hippos, beavers and porcupines!