Friday, September 17, 2021

How to Be Sensitive to Your Readers

by Crystal Bowman

As a children’s author and former school teacher, being a guest author at elementary schools is something I enjoy, plus it’s a great way to market my books. Whether I’m teaching a poetry lesson in the classroom, or speaking to a large group in the gym, I try to engage the children by asking questions they can relate to. For example, “How many of you have pets?” or “Does your mom make you eat vegetables you don’t like?” I enjoy the back-and-forth interaction, and love watching the children respond.

Be Aware
A few years ago, after I spoke to a group of students, a second-grade teacher came to me. She was very kind and asked if she could make me aware of something. She shared that a boy in her class recently lost his mother to breast cancer and there is no “mom” in the home. She cautioned against using “mom” exclusively and suggested I say parent, grandma, aunt, baby sitter, or grown-up. I thanked her for bringing this to my attention and told her it would make a difference not only in my speaking but also my writing. 

The traditional family unit with a mom, dad, three kids, and a dog, is not as common as it used to be. As writers we need to be sensitive to the ever-changing family profile, which may include stepparents, single parents, half-siblings, and blended families. Some children spend week days with one parent and the weekend with a different parent. Some kids have two sets of parents, some have only one parent, and some live with their grandparents. In one of my recent rhyming manuscripts I wrote: 

A grandma and grandpa can be family too.
Who are the people living with you?

Another realization is that not all kids live in a house, so I often say home which is more inclusive. And some kids live in apartments, which is implied in this verse:

Your neighbor can be the lady next door, 
or the grandpa who lives on another floor.

Sensitivity Readers
Many publishers today have sensitivity readers. These specialty readers are qualified to notice words or phrases that may be offensive. This is beneficial to writers who may not be aware that something they wrote could be interpreted as a racist or offensive comment. 

Since I do not write novels I am wondering if fiction writers have a little more wiggle room when you write in the POV of a flawed character, or someone who is rough around the edges. Perhaps a certain time period or cultural setting makes inappropriate language more permissible? (Help me out here fiction writers). 

The beauty of writing for the Christian market is that God’s Word never changes, and it never goes out of style. However, the way I try to reach my audience with God’s Word may change as the needs of today’s families change. Parents today want to see a greater emphasis on God’s love rather than a list of dos and don’ts. I will never water down the message of the Gospel to please my audience, but there are ways to deliver truth with a less-preachy approach. 

I have been writing for nearly 30 years and as our culture continues to change, my writing needs to reflect those changes. How has your writing evolved through the years? I’d love to know!


Crystal Bowman is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 100 books for children and four nonfiction books for women. She also writes lyrics for children’s piano music and is a monthly contributor to Clubhouse Jr. Magazine. She loves going to schools to teach kids about poetry. She also speaks at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups and teaches workshops at writers’ conferences. When she is not writing or speaking, she enjoys going for walks, working out at the gym, and eating ice cream. She and her husband live in Michigan and have seven huggable grandkids. 


  1. Thank you for making me aware that we need to think strongly before we speak or write - in this day and age - as things are a bit different. As you pointed out using home instead of house and being more sensitive to the word family - not always meaning mom, dad, kids, etc. I appreciate your blog and thank you for sharing it.

  2. Thank you, Diane. Awareness is critical in our writing as well as speaking.