Could Reading Children’s Books Help You Become a Better Business Writer?

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?

To become better storytellers, our mentors and teachers tell us to read — and read widely. We are wise to follow their advice.

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.

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. yes, the art of writing a cool business article can be improved by reading children’s book…

  2. You have revealed one of my secret weapons: when I have to write copy about a technical subject (e.g., satellites), I buy a book on the topic aimed at 12-year-olds. It makes the complex clear and even gives me some simplified text I can adapt to my promotion.

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more, Demian. As a person who has worked in the K12 system for the last 14 years, I’ve seen the power of children’s books over and over. One of my favorite series is Walter the Farting Dog. There are six or seven of these books in the series, all illustrated by a very talented artist. Talk about starting a conversation, these books will have everyone laughing in just seconds. The great thing is, all the books have a good moral to the story. Whether it’s Walter at a garage sale, on a cruise, or banned from the beach, this lovable dog is trouble, but he always saves the day by the last page. Kids and (most) adults love these adventures.

  4. Another great post, Demian. I still read children’s books and buy them for my grown kids. Author Madeleine L’Engle said that if a book wasn’t good enough for adults, it wasn’t good enough for children. I had a children’s story published by Ladybug magazine, and these stories are incredibly difficult to write. Anyone who has had to gain and keep the attention of a child, in general, would understand this. Good children’s books can teach us to write honestly, imaginatively, and powerfully.

  5. Great advice – I don’t think we should ever underestimate the enormous power of great children’s literature. I recently read “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness – I couldn’t put it down, and I defy any adult not to weep buckets at the end. It’s the most amazing story about grief and loss I’ve ever read.

    You’re so right about the value of simplicity – when we over-complicate our writing, we often reduce its impact.

  6. Hi Demian,

    Simple rocks. Simple is powerful, and kid’s stories are as simple as it gets. Writing and growing I simply learn more each day that we should be more like kids.

    Creative, daring, honest, simple, direct and to the point. We never have to guess what a kid wants, do we? Not so for most of the bloggers out there.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

  7. Excellent tips,

    Comics for children are so much simple to read and absorb and it teaches us 2 things : Art of expressing , Making it easy for consumption of information.

    Learning and adopting our writing by taking clues from above, can have a positive impact on our writing.

    Great article !!

  8. Hi! Can the North Carolina Reading Association “reblog” this and link to this site? We just love this article!

  9. Ahh, well I don’t have to ever be worried about being embarrassed about reading children’s books…I have 4 kids and another on the way! =) Merry Christmas Demian and thank you…..Great post as usual!

  10. I LOVE picture books. I have my own collection of favorites – a few from my actual childhood, but most purchases made during my “grown up” (ha!) years. Picture books are wonderful for all the reasons you mention. They are concise, engaging, focused, empathetic. Their simplicity is their strength – stripping away all the extraneous stuff to get at the heart of the story.

    I also love picture books for their creativity. In the worlds of picture books, anything can happen (and usually does). Forget thinking outside the box; picture books rarely even acknowledge that there is a box!

    Thanks for this post. Happy to share the picture book love. :)

  11. It’s tempting to think that writing a children’s book would be easy but it requires a special kind of talent to take a powerful or complex message and communicate it in simple, easy-to-understand language.

    Gaining a child’s attention is easy, keeping it takes skill. Short words, sentences and paragraphs, alliteration, repetition and rhyme all combine to educate, excite and enthral.

    If you can capture the essence of a great children’s story, you have a potent weapon in your writing arsenal.

  12. Add “The Little Engine Who Could” to that list, for all the reasons mentioned in the post above, as well as for the underlying motivational message that we all need sometimes.

  13. Two of my favorites are Listen to the Mustn’ts by Sheldon Silverstein and Pout- Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen. I’m fascinated by the way these authors put words together to tell a story that can be read over and over again and still elicit a response. They have all of the elements that you mention and, like you said, are a good reminder for a wordy writer like myself to ‘keep it simple’.

  14. Of course, Dr. Seuss came to mind immediately. I jumped over to Google to get my facts straight, because I was going to say something witty and profound about him starting his career as an illustrator, copywriter, and WWII propagandist. But it seems as if pages of bloggers had mined that territory. Still worth a mention. And I do list him as one of my major influencers. Never too old for children’s books. Quite right.

  15. My boss often asks me to talk to him like he’s a four year old. That’s the best way to explain complex topics by breaking things down into understandable concepts.

  16. I hate the idea of dumbing-down content, but that’s exactly what I had to do for the 5 years I taught in China. I mean, these kids don’t even understand the most basic of sentences at times.

    So I got real good at delivering my message in a way they could understand, often through pictures with very few accompanying words.

    And I found a way to make a few bucks from it by creating a website for ESL teachers, meaning kids from around the world can now get these great stories and learn English while they’re at it.

    I think it’s a win-win for everyone. :)

  17. Demian, great job on your post. I agree with it 100%. Another lesson to take from Children’s novels is the ease of reading them. We [adults] can easy read and understand a child novel. I think a lot of our readers would appreciate our posts to be more wrote for children… meaning easier to read by anyone. We [internet users] surf the net, read article in a hurry and skim – the easier it is to read something, the easier it will be to get the point or solution and think “Hey! I will be coming back to that site for quick easy advice in the future”…if any of that make any sense! :D

  18. Well said. It brings to mind the old saying that in order to be successful as a writer, one must present things in a way that a 12 year old can understand.

  19. Reading children’s book gives us the idea that our marketing stories should be as funny, entertaining and at the end would give a definite lesson to audience just like how these children’s stories go.

  20. Oho !! that’s a fabulous tips. I never feel embarrassed to read a children’s books.because the method of writing a great business content can be improved by reading children’s book…

  21. You may be laughing but actually, stories are important to business marketing.

    This is the message that the post wants to convey to the readers.

    Stories captures attention and persuade readers. They are memorable and shareable. These two aspects are important in creating the very best content.

    And the more we read children’s book we learn the essential aspect in telling a story. Remember this also, when you read be sure to…

    Look at the emotions.
    Look at the characters.
    Look at the conflict.
    Look at the language

    Very nice post!

    Thanks!

    Glad I have seen the post at Kingged.com.

  22. Wow. I never thought I’d see the day when children’s books are talked about on Copyblogger. Business writers aren’t supposed to dabble in fiction, ya know? ;)

    A lot of people think that writing for children is easy (they’re kids, how hard can it be?). The thing is, I know a lot of children’s lit writers (ahem), and it’s hard to do. Sure there are the naturally-gifted ones, but for most, it takes years of study, practice and critiques. Not everyone can tell a complete story (with conflict, emotions, fully-fleshed characters, and the whole lot of it), with a word-count limit hanging over your head. Even the longer forms are difficult to do well. Tight writing is still a requirement in novels.

    So thanks for this post! It’s good to see you promoting children’s books. After all, it’s how we all learned how to read.

  23. Great Post Demian, you won’t believe it but i learnt how to write and speak fluently just by reading story books. Even now i would love pick “Famous Five”, “Secret Seven” or “Goosebumps” (the list is huge :-) ) and read them again. There are always great things hidden in simple stones and i never leave any unturned ;-)

  24. Interesting post. I can see how it relates.. storytelling is all about generating emotions. You’re right — Simplicity is key!

  25. I so appreciate the information in this post. I’m creating a checklist for my article and blog content to see if they can be enhanced by the elements listed.

    Thanks!

  26. An interesting concept – certainly numerous successful businesses in England use “childish” marketing techniques. Companies like Moon Pig and Innocent Smoothies go for a playful, silly way of showcasing what they offer. Innocent started it off and it’s been a smash hit – everyone copied it ever since.

    Perhaps a return to the morose old days of spurious sentiments would be in order! Read some really serious literature like Solzhenitsyn, or Being and Nothingness, and pen an existential ode to business life. Anything which excludes business spiel is fine by me.

  27. Awesome post storytelling is a very good way of getting out your message in a compelling way:)

  28. I’m probably not alone in my tendency to subconciously assume that complex subject matter = complex sentence structure, and I always find myself overwriting content. Reading this, I’ve realized that you’re completely right – and children’s books pack a ton of storytelling and information into a handful of words.

    It’s made me realize that I need to try and communicate complex concepts with simple sentences, and that it’s probably better for reader and writer. Maybe it’s time to dig out some story books!

  29. Fantastic post, Demian!

    This really hit home as a parent of a two and four year old.

    I like your idea here to approach our marketing projects like writing a children’s book. When you do this well, even simple stories like The Very Hungry Caterpillar become riveting works you can’t stop reading.

    I wish my kids could stay this age for a long time so I can stay immersed in children’s books.

    Maybe my wife and I should shake the baby tree again?

  30. More incentive to read to the niece and nephews, so two birds with one stone, I like it!

    Bookmarked this with the reference, “When content writing remember: Story, Emotion, Character, Conflict.”

  31. Nice post, Demian. I am a mum of a 4 years old and I read children books at least 15-30 min every evening. I observed my wee boy for a while and he prefers books with images even the story is much longer and complicated. I think, same applies for adults. A great story needs a great image/illustration.

  32. Carolyn Curtis-Mahoney :

    Hey, Demian,

    Thank you so much for mentioning I Took the Moon for a Walk in your article!

  33. We have a bedtime story telling every single night with my almost 4 years old since I was pregnant with her. Might sounds silly to start is at a very early stage, but telling a story helped me relax and connect with my baby from the start. Relaxing is still one of the main reasons for reading even during the day. My little one has an outstanding vocabulary and she is trilangual. Also we have about 200 childrens books already and reading is one of our favourite things to do.
    Thanks for the artical, I think is great. xx