I don’t care how old you are — 17 or 70 — as a writer you can benefit from reading children’s stories.
Stories like Madeline, Interrupting Chicken, Henry’s Freedom Box, The Giving Tree, and I Took the Moon for a Walk.
Keep in mind, the reason these are considered “children’s” books is not because of the material.
Behind each of these simple, clear, easy-to-read books is a complex story:
- A scary trip to the hospital
- A slave who mails himself to freedom
- A boy who ravages a generous and selfless tree
These are “children’s” stories because in each book the writer crystallizes a story into one clear, concise, and compelling message in about 40 pages, with just 50 (or fewer) words per page.
Out with the four-pound novel, in with the seven-ounce anecdote.
Perfect for the 4-to-7 age range … and perfect for telling your business story.
Let me explain.
Why should you read children’s books?
Why? Stories are important to business and marketing.
Our own beloved Sonia Simone put it nicely:
Here on Copyblogger, you’ve seen us talk many times about how to tell a terrific marketing story.
Why? Because stories are fundamental to how we communicate as human beings. Tell the right story and you can capture attention, entertain, enlighten, and persuade … all in the course of just a few minutes.
Stories are memorable and shareable — and those are two of the most important aspects of the very best content.
It is by reading that we learn how to tell those stories.
Rarely, however, is there mention of reading children’s books when it comes to reading advice.
That’s just so below us, right? I mean, we’re not out to write a children’s book, so why care?
Well, if you read more children’s books, you’ll learn what is essential to telling a great story … even better than if you read Wool or The Stand.
How can I say something so clearly heretical? Well …
Think of Howey and King as masters of the long form. Bemelmans and Silverstein, on the other hand, are masters of the short form — the crystallized form perfect for opening a blog post or telling your own marketing story.
Here’s how that works …
How to read a story with purpose
This is easy if you have small children.
The bedding ritual is chock full of reading opportunities. Let them pick out two or three of their favorite books, then start reading.
As you read:
- Look at the emotions. What core emotion is behind each story? Is it fear? Joy? Sadness? Anger?
- Look at the characters. Who is the main character? Is he or she likeable? Who are the supporting characters? Who is the enemy of the main character?
- Look at the conflict. What does the main character want? What obstacle is stopping the main character from getting what he wants? How does the story end?
- Look at the language. The short words. The short sentences. The short paragraphs. The repetition and alliteration.
Read and re-read each story (even after your children fall asleep) with these questions in mind.
The beautiful thing about these books is you can read one, on average, in fewer than five minutes. That means in 30 minutes you can read six books (or the same book six times — one sure method for absorbing a book).
But what if you don’t have small children? Easy. Take a trip to your local book store, hunt down the books for ages 4-7, and read two dozen books in two hours.
Later, with your head dizzy with ideas, sit down and write your own story.
Why you should not be embarrassed
Listen. Don’t be ashamed of reading children’s books.
And certainly don’t be ashamed of writing like a child.
Simplicity is preferred over complication when it comes to writing (and God knows we bring a lot of adult baggage to the table).
Besides, Pablo Picasso once said, “I’ve spent my whole life learning how to draw like a child.”
If learning to draw like a child was a serious and significant pursuit for one of the most famous painters of the 20th century, then spending the rest of our lives learning how to write like a child shouldn’t be beneath us either.