Friday, April 15, 2022

Addressing Tough Topics when Writing Children’s Books

by Crystal Bowman

As our society becomes more aware of social, physical, and ethnic diversity, book for children need to reflect that reality. Books about children with special needs is a needed topic in today’s market. Publishers, however, are reluctant to accept these stories because they believe the market is too narrow. Stories that feature a child with Down Syndrome, autism, or a physical disability can be a great resource to help kids understand that all children desire and deserve to be included and treated with respect. But these are not your typical bedtime storybooks that children want to hear. 

Another difficult topic is the death of a sibling, parent, grandparent, or even a pet. Though these stories can be comforting and helpful, unless the stories are relatable and needed at a particular moment, parents won’t look for them, and you’ll rarely find them on the best-sellers list. 

Stories about child immigrants and refugees are becoming more popular. These stories, though needed and informative, are not necessarily fun to read. I’m writing the true story of a young girl who was forced out of her African village because of war and spent her childhood in a refugee camp. It’s a beautiful, heart-tugging story filled with God’s love and protection, but escaping war is not a desirable subject for most children. 

In 2020, I published I Love You to the Stars, When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembers. Inspired by a true story, it addresses the topic of dementia. The manuscript was applauded and praised by every publisher who read it but decided to pass. Eventually, Kregel Publishing saw value in this story and published it. The book has received four prestigious awards, dozens of five-star reviews, and was a #1 new release on Amazon. Everyone knows someone who is affected by memory loss, and this book is a great resource to help children understand the disease, but sales are just okay. 

How can we address hard topics in a way that will reach today’s market?

One way to address harder topics is to weave them into a book of devotions for children. Writing a devotion about children being uniquely created by God is a positive way to talk about children with special needs. A devotion about God comforting us when we’re sad can address the loss of a loved one. A devotion about God being with us wherever we go can address the topic of moving away from home. When the devotions are added to broader compilation, written with age-appropriate language, and end with hope, the messages can be well received by a child. 

Publishers are also more intentional about portraying diversity and inclusion in illustrations. Bi-racial, multigenerational, and single parent families are more common, and characters can also be illustrated showing a physical disability. Michelle Lazurek and I have a picture book releasing this fall about four young girls who dream of their future careers. Each character represents a different ethnicity, and one of the girls has one arm. She engages in activities just as the other girls do, and there is no mention of her “one arm” in the text. She is portrayed as equal to the other three girls. 

In the picture book, Different Like Me, (Our Daily Bread) Xochitl Dixon features a diverse group of children celebrating their differences and realizing what they have in common. The illustrations tell an adventurous second story as the children work together on a common goal of transporting a giant fish balloon. Children will enjoy the book as they learn about our differences through a delightful story. 

How to publish a “tough topic” book. 

If you’re interested in writing a book on a difficult subject, indie publishing, or partnership publishing may be the best choice. With print-on-demand options, authors can commit to a realistic quantity of books and print more when needed. Promoting the book through local organization, bookstores, schools, churches, and library visits are ways to reach an audience. By talking about the purpose of the book and offering insightful or educational backstory, your audience will be more interested in purchasing a copy for themselves or for someone else.

Our world is constantly changing and the books we write can reflect those changes in a positive way while honoring our Creator. Writing is hard and writing about tough topics is even harder. But if tough-topic books offer insight, hope, and awareness, then they need to be written.


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 comment:

  1. I Love You To The Stars is a tender treatment of a tough topic, Crystal. Life rarely waits until we are grown to introduce reality. Thank you for tools to help parents and grands guide our beloved littles.