Writing a Children’s Book? Make It Predictable.

Susan Shafer

If you’re like many ASJA members, you probably write for adults. But have you ever considered writing for kids?

As a former teacher, and then, as a children’s book editor, I’ve read hundreds of books for young kids, from wordless books to early chapter books.

Of all those, my favorite kind is the predictable book, which helps young kids learn to read, and find joy in reading. If you’ve ever thought of writing a book for children ages 3-5, I suggest you build in a predictable structure.

What Is a Predictable Book?

In the children’s book publishing world, a predictable book is one with a repeating pattern or phrase. A classic example of a predictable book is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. Another is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

In Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, the narrator asks the question What Do You See? with that question repeated on every spread. The question and the answers throughout the story conform to the same sentence structure, changing only with the animal (I see a . . . [red bird . . . yellow duck . . . blue horse] looking at me.)

Maybe you remember reading that book to your kids when they were very young. You probably noticed children’s delight at being able to say the next words aloud, often before turning the page. True, at times you may have tired of the book and wished your child would move on to other stories. But the predictable vocabulary or structure of the story kept your child’s interest. The child wanted to hear it, or read it, again and again. Why?

The Benefit

Young children often see reading as an overwhelming task. Being able to decipher all those strange squiggles on the page is challenging. But when kids hear a story with a pattern, they pick up on it quickly. They anticipate the next words or refrain and can say them aloud. After just one or two read-alouds by the parent, and with the support of the illustrations, children know the whole book and are able to read it on their own. That’s a great feeling!

But parents aren’t the only ones who read predictable books to their kids. In fact, predictable books are often selected by preschool and kindergarten teachers to teach young children to read and write. Many early childhood teachers point out the pattern of the book to the class, and then guide kids to create a new predictable book of their own.

So, if you’ve ever thought of writing a book for preschoolers, you can’t go wrong by building in a repeated word or refrain.

Maybe your story will be about a mischievous cat. Or a tiny mouse. Or a big orange pumpkin. That’s fine. But if you’re writing for young kids, make it a predictable book.