Your Children's Story and the Message

 By Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

I get a lot of clients who want to tell children something through a book.

These people want to send a message in hopes of teaching the reader something … something the author thinks is important.

People who want to write children’s stories usually want to teach and enlighten children, whether it's about bullying, being yourself, being kind, or something else.

This is a noble endeavor - the problem, though, is children don’t want to be told what they should or shouldn’t do. They want a story that they can get involved in, one they want to turn the pages to find out what happens next, and one they can connect with the main character.

The ‘icing on the cake’ is what the reader takes away from the book, the takeaway value.

So as an author, how do you get your message across without hitting kids over the head?

To start, the story should be about something kids will want to read about. And it should not overtly be about the message.

I recently read a client’s manuscript that flooded the story with the author’s message. Nothing was subtle.

So how do you tone down your message to weave it seamlessly and subtly into your story?

One way, if you’re writing a story because of a message you have, is to think of a scenario where your message could play out.

Your message or moral takeaway may be about doing the right thing, even if tempted.

Suppose the story is about Sammy, a kid who’s basically honest.

Sammy and his friends find a bag of money on a shelf in the garage of an elderly neighbor they’re cleaning the garage for.

It’s a lot of money, and Josh wants to split the money between himself, Sammy, and another friend.

After thinking about it for a minute, Sammy tells Josh to put the money back.

A few seconds later, the elderly neighbor walks into the garage.

Sammy was tempted. He probably thought all sorts of things before finally realizing it was wrong.

Nowhere in the story should it say, ‘Crime doesn’t pay.’ 

Let the reader come up with their own conclusions.

If the story is written right, the reader will get the takeaway value without realizing they are … without the author hitting them over the head with it.

A story that takes the protagonist on a journey should result in him growing in some way.

Using Sammy above as an example, maybe he wasn’t sure what to do under those circumstances. Maybe he thought about being dishonest in the past. Maybe he struggled with his honesty in little things.

He chose the right path and learned something about himself. He was an honest kid.

Again, your young reader wants a good story. They want to go on a journey – messaging should not be a part of that journey.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, ghostwriter, editor, rewriter, and coach. If you need help with your story, click HERE.

Karen also offers authors:

A guided self-study course and mentoring program.

A DIY book to help you write your own children’s book.

Self-publishing help for children’s authors.


Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for the wisdom and experience built into this article for children's writers. At the end of the day, it's all about the story not some preachy message for the child. It's valuable insight that every writer (children or not) can use as they write their story. The takeaway message is important to identify for the reader but the story has to drive it.

author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition) [Follow the Link for a FREE copy]

Karen Cioffi said...

Terry, thanks for your input! It's an easy trap to fall into for children's authors new to writing for children, especially for people who only want to get their one story out - they don't realize there are rules to writing a quality book. My concern is for people who don't bother to learn about writing or getting professional help before publishing and now those who use AI to get stories out.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I think the problem lies in that--as adults--we read children's books to our kids or grandkids and are acutely aware of the message BECAUSE we're adults and have developed reading skills that allow us to do that. Karen's advice is important for poetry, too. And the reason new poets so frequently stray is that we have actually read lots of poetry that stays from accepted advice for specific forms of poetry. The classics were once definitely lesson-oriented and we see it still in greeting cards and--sadly--many self-published works. It's this kind of dynamic that should warn new writers (but also experienced writers who plan to move into a new genre!) to get expert advice. With emphasis on that EXPERT. Expertise in publishing helps big time, but it also helps for authors to search for a credible source who can help with their specific genre of interest. Maybe even a sub-genre. Like the wonderful woman who years ago helped me see how my general poetry skills should NOT be applied if I wanted to sell verses to HALLMARK. (-:


Karen Cioffi said...

Helpful point, Carolyn. I hadn't thought of it in regard to poetry!

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you for this helpful and insightful article, Karen. I'm printing it out and putting it on my desk to remember to subtly show the message of the book I'm working on, using your advice and suggestions. We want our books to resonate with our readers during and after they're finished reading.

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