Children’s books are a powerful tool for promoting brain development, fostering imagination and creativity, developing language, and teaching important values. With our planet facing unprecedented environmental challenges, they can also be a fantastic way to educate and inspire the next generation to create change in a fun and empowering way. But what makes a successful children’s book? In a recent Community Hub session, writers and illustrators from within the eXXpedition ambassador community joined us to discuss their experience and top tips for writing, illustrating and publishing children’s literature.
Meet Our Panellists
Jeanine Behr Getz – eXXpedition Round the World, Leg 3
Jeanine is a Sales, Marketing & Product Strategy Consultant, Advisor and Investor, focused on organisations that positively impact human and environmental health. She enjoys working with organisations to help make processes, products and consumer choices more attainable, efficient, profitable and responsible. Jeanine authored the award winning environmental children’s book, Think Green! and is the eco-editor and a contributing writer to various digital publications. In her free time you will find Jeanine fending off writers block by paddle boarding with her pug Louie, hiking or volunteering.
Helen Hill – eXXpedition Round the World, Virtual Voyage: South Africa
Helen is a self-employed learning and content designer for her business UnlikelyGenius™️ Ltd. and co-founder of Be The Future – a project aimed at helping guardians to raise the eco-leaders of the future, through positivity, storytelling and humour. No doom and gloom here! Her first book Falling Off the Ladder: Revamp your mindset and thrive in self-employment was released in October 2021 and she has 3 children’s books in development – for which she is the illustrator. Helen lives in West Yorkshire, UK with the long-suffering Graham and her two extremely fluffy diva bunnies Tiffin and Strudel.
Emma Feggetter – eXXpedition Round the World, Leg 4
Emma used to be a science teacher and as a result has always had a passion for science education. During the pandemic, she was able to focus on one of her passions – creating art. A year on from eXXpedition, Emma shared the daily visual journals she made during her eXXpedition voyage with her fellow crew mates to remind everyone of what they had achieved. They encouraged and supported Emma to think about children’s book illustration and as a result she is now planning to write a children’s book on plastic pollution. Emma is currently learning all the mechanics of this by taking courses and aims to have a book published by the end of 2023!
Sofía Nogués – eXXpedition Round the World, Leg 5
Sofía is a strong advocate for the environment and works for data analytics company Clarivate, where she is manager of external communications and regional sustainability lead for EMEA. Having a background in journalism, she believes in the power of storytelling and is on a journey of writing a children’s book to make an impact on the environment by engaging kids.
Think Green! Written by Jeanine Behr Getz and Illustrated by Jenny Nightingale
The Writing and Illustrating Process
Have you ever found yourself thinking, “I’d really like to write a children’s book”? It may seem simple, but when you sit down to do it, it can be difficult to know where to start. No one style fits all when it comes to the writing and illustrating process, but there are lots of interesting ideas and approaches out there. Our ambassadors shared some of their experiences:
- Before you start, you need to really know your subject. Our panel suggest picking a subject you already have knowledge, expertise or a real passion for. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of them have chosen to focus on plastic pollution in their children’s stories!
- Develop and refine your writing and illustrating skills by participating in courses. This is a great way to learn from experts, unlock ideas and develop new techniques. With so many courses available, sorting the good from the bad can be daunting and time consuming. Luckily for you, our panellists have kindly provided a list of their recommendations at the bottom of this page.
- Use social media for inspiration. Emma takes part in challenges such as #folktaleweek to generate ideas and develop positive drawing and writing habits. Social media can also be a great way to connect with other authors and illustrators.
- It can be very valuable to find a friend or peer group for support. For example, Helen has regular catch-ups with the author of her children’s book who is also a great friend. It’s a good way to bounce around ideas, keep on track and get excited about your project.
- Read children’s books! Reading and writing are intrinsically linked and what you read will undoubtedly influence what you write. From sentence structure to language, and illustrations to book layout, learn what you like, pick up what appeals and make it your own!
Find an Editor
When writing your children’s book it’s highly recommended that you bring in an editor to help you improve it. An editor is someone who corrects, finesses, and polishes your work to prepare it for publication, and it can be one of the best investments you make. When looking for an editor, it is important to find someone you can trust and form a good working relationship with. Our ambassadors have found editors through recommendations from friends and Reedsy, an online community of over 1 million authors and 2,500 freelance professionals.
Put Your Book to the Test
The next step is to try reading your book aloud to children in your target market or age group. Schools, libraries and activity groups are all brilliant places to put your book to the test. Feedback from children, teachers and parents is invaluable. What is their engagement level? Are they asking further questions beyond the story?
Traditional Publishing vs Self Publishing
Traditional publishing vs. self publishing is one of the great debates of the literary world. Traditional publishing means you will need to submit your work and have it selected for publication. Whereas self-publishing means you pay to have your work published and may manage some or all of other parts of the book publishing process such as editing, design, marketing and production. So, with people singing the praises of both approaches the question remains: is it better to self publish or get a publisher? Most of our panellists decided to take the self-publication route, primarily to retain creative control over their work, but both approaches have their own advantages:
- Traditional publishing: No upfront financial costs, backing of an editorial, design and marketing team, print distribution to book stores.
- Self-publishing: Guaranteed your book will get published, total creative control, high royalty rates, fast route to market.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong decision and the choice depends on you as an individual and what is most important to you!
- Writing Picture Books Revised and Expanded Edition: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication
- How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator: A Guide to Visual Storytelling
- The Good Ship Illustration
- Julia Donaldson Writing Children’s Picture Books
- Storyteller Academy
More about SHiFT Hub Events
eXXpedition runs regular events for our community and beyond. Keep an eye on our social channels for updates on upcoming public events, and browse our blog to find out the highlights of our community events and keep up with eXXpedition news.
Thank you to 11th Hour Racing who are supporting this work.