children's books

What Makes a Good Children's Book and Writer?

I finished reading one of my favorite books, James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. I’d read the book for the first time when I was eight or nine. Reading it to the kid’s too.

Dahl known for such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and BFG. He is a fantastic storyteller and deserves kudos for his canon of work. The books hold up even if he uses a plethora of exclamation points!!!

I found this quote from an interview where he explains what makes for a good children’s writer/book:

What makes a good children’s writer? The writer must have a genuine and powerful wish not only to entertain children, but to teach them the habit of reading…[He or she] must be a jokey sort of fellow…[and] must like simple tricks and jokes and riddles and other childish things. He must be unconventional and inventive. He must have a really first-class plot. He must know what enthralls children and what bores them. They love being spooked. They love ghosts. They love the finding of treasure. The love chocolates and toys and money. They love magic. They love being made to giggle. They love seeing the villain meet a grisly death. They love a hero and they love the hero to be a winner. But they hate descriptive passages and flowery prose. They hate long descriptions of any sort. Many of them are sensitive to good writing and can spot a clumsy sentence. They like stories that contain a threat. “D’you know what I feel like?” said the big crocodile to the smaller one. “I feel like having a nice plump juicy child for my lunch.” They love that sort of thing. What else do they love? New inventions. Unorthodox methods. Eccentricity. Secret information. The list is long. But above all, when you write a story for them, bear in mind that they do not possess the same power of concentration as an adult, and they become very easily bored or diverted. Your story, therefore, must tantalize and titillate them on every page and all the time that you are writing you must be saying to yourself, “Is this too slow? Is it too dull? Will they stop reading?” To those questions, you must answer yes more often than you answer no. [If not] you must cross it out and start again. -“The Writer” Magazine in October, 1975: “A Note on Writing Books for Children”.

S.D. Smith on Writing Children's Books | TPW Podcast Ep 051


S.D. Smith has lived an interesting life. From growing up in rural West Virginia, to South Africa in the middle of apartheid, and back to West Virginia. Now, Smith writes for children and burst onto the scene with his Green Embers series. In this episode S.D. and Ryan discuss writing for children, cultivating imagination in kid's and adults, marketing without losing your soul, role of faith in writing, and much, much, more. Find S.D. Smith and his work at: Prolific Writer Takeaways:

  1. Serve and love people through your writing.
  2. Forming honest relationships is the best form of marketing.
  3. Don't be artsy, be yourself.

Show sponsored by Subculture Corsets & Clothing:

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NANOWRIMO Day #2: Chapters 4-5

More updates. Here are a couple chapters of the children's book in the works. I'm cruising along, making some good progress. I wanted you to see in "public" what a working manuscript looks like. At least what mine looks like. These chapters have had minimal edits and polishing. 

My process is to write fast and often. Then cycle back every few writing sessions, to edit and clean up, and make sure the story is making sense. I like to keep my editing at a minimum on the backend. More focusing on making the story clear and punchy, not getting bogged down with spelling and grammar mistakes. 



The ten hours in the car flew by knowing a pool was in my future. The Death Valley Econo Lodge was not the nicest place I’d ever seen. Chipped paint  and outdated signage made a sight for sore eyes. But it had a pool and right now that’s the only thing that mattered in the universe. Maybe it would take my mind off what happened in Cowboy Town. 

Dad paid the clerk and grabbed the motel keys from the balding worker. We unpacked the car, tossed our bags in the room, and within a few minutes we we’re swimming in the pool. Good thing because the temperature was about a million. 

I swam under water, popped up like a dolphin, and splashed dad in the face. “How hot is it?” I asked.

Dad gave a sour look and wiped down his glasses. He glanced at his watch filled with digital read outs and other numbers, “According to my watch 120 degrees Ferenheit. Pretty typical for June in the desert.”

“No way. How do people live like this? Give me the humidity of Ohio over these scorching temps.”

“It’s a dry heat,” dad said, with a smile.



I swam to the other side of the pool and asked dad to follow. I’d hoped to be out of reach of mom and Rosie. “You spill the beans to mom?”

Dad spit out pool water and peeked back at the girls chatting under an umbrella. “Not, yet. I’m trying to not make a big deal about it.”

“Come on. We had twelve hours in the car. Not to mention the nine times Rosie stopped to pee and fill up on candy bars. She’s really taken the boyfriend thing hard.”

Dad nodded. “I know, I know. Had every opportunity. I chickened out. Tonight I’ll do it.”

I reached out a pinky, “Pinky swear. If you don’t do it. I blow your cover. Deal?” Dad obliged and sealed the deal with matching pinkies. 

I climbed out of the pool, sprinted across the pool deck, hoping my feet wouldn’t melt from the volcanic temps. A three foot diving board perched on the opposite end of the pool. 

I contemplated a front flip versus a backflip and the pros and cons of each. When I chose the front flip I was startled by some loud talking behind me. A group of men were crowding in the parking lot and sipping on sodas. 

A work truck with the words Ambassador Corporation was written on the side. It had water hoses on each side and a large storage unit on top. Looked like it hauled liquids of some kind. 

I jumped to the board, focused on the flip, and thought nothing of it. Until I did. Ambassador was the name on the folder in my dad’s study. The one with Mission: Ambassadors. I wondered if this was connected to the men in the bathroom? 

My flip turned into a belly flop. I swam in dad’s direction. He was now relaxing on a raft about to drift off to sleep. “Dad, wake up. I have a question.”

Dad took off his sunglasses and opened one eye. “This better be important. Can’t a guy get a nap once in a while?”

“What do you know about Ambassadors?”

“That’s a broad question. You want to talk about the Ambassador of France, Quebec, or Wallion? Or, the name used for diplomats in the United States.”

I scratched my head and had no idea what dad just said. “Huh?” I said, turning to the parking lot, “That truck says Ambassador Corporation. Does that mean anything to you?”

Dad flipped off the raft like bailing over the side of  a ship. His drink spilled into the water. “What did you say?”

“Ambassador Corporation…”

“I heard you,” dad said, climbing out of the pool, and drying off with a towel. He didn’t say a word and wandered off inside the motel. 

Rosie set her magazine down and lowered her sunglasses. “Where’d dad run off to?”

I shrugged.

Mom followed suit. “Everything okay, Ricky?”

“Yeah, no problem. Dad probably just needed to do his business. He’ll be back in a minute.”

I jumped back in the pool knowing something important was going on with the Ambassador people. I felt the pressure trying to hold all these secrets inside. My mom didn’t know about the work-vacation. Rosie was clueless as always. But I was scared. Scared for my dad and what all this might mean. My stomach did a flip instead.

A minute later I saw a man walking across the parking lot to the Ambassador truck. It was dad. He reached out a hand and embraced a couple men wearing utility worker gear. They smiled and exchanged laughs. 

The interaction seemed harmless and not like the danger I imagined dad might be in. Maybe it was a couple of old friends from his days living in California. 

I swam to the edge of the pool and put on my sun glasses and Ohio Buckeye hat. I pulled the hat down over my face and jaunted to the corner of the pool deck. Hoping to be as undercover as possible. 

A table with an umbrella sat pushed in the corner. It was against the fence and close enough to the men and dad. I lounged in the chair and tried to listen to their conversation. This got me in trouble last time but my curiosity wouldn’t let go. 

I rocked the chair back and forth with the legs lifting off the ground. The men and dad bantered back and forth. The laughs turned to loud talking. I stopped the chair and wanted to reposition myself in a better place for listening. 

The voices grew louder and it no longer sounded like a friendly conversation. One buff looking guy poked a finger in the center of dad’s chest. Dad recoiled and put his hands on his head showing frustration. 

I bounced to my feet and in the midst of all the excitement what every twelve year old fears the most. No, not public speaking, or a pimple on the edge of your nose. 

Exposing the world to your tighty whities.

Somehow my swim trunks caught the metal on the chair and when I got up ripped the shorts clean in half. I stood on the pool deck of the Death Valley Econo Lodge for all the world to see. Ricky Rayburn in his underwear.

The men in the parking stopped their yelling and it turned to laughs at my expense. My sister and mother covered their faces in horror. Rosie pretended to not know me with a handful of other vacationers watching the scene.

I tried to cover my skinny body with the shards of leftover swim trunks, to no avail. My dad rushed to the fence with an unpleasant look on his face. “What are you doing son? Get back to the room and put some clothes on,” he said, handing me the motel key through the fence.

Despite the watching eyes, laughter, and ammunition for Rosie to use the rest of our lives. I didn’t care. I wanted to know what dad was doing with these men. My curious mind wanted to be part of something. Part of the mission. 

“Who are those guys?” I asked, covering my crotch with the torn up swim wear.

“Nothing. Just get your clothes on,” dad said.

“Are they bad guys?” I said, my eyes lighting up. 

“Stay out of it, Ricky… You’re messing things up again.”

When dad walked back to the men. The curiosity wore off and I realized what I feared the most. Not being half naked at a public pool in the desert. I feared my chances of joining dad on a mission were fading like the setting sun. 

I just couldn’t catch a break. My days of adventurer are were bleak with every clumsy move. 


I shot awake early the next morning. Like it was Christmas morning. The family were snoring in separate beds in the motel. Dad was breathing like a freight train in my bed, and mom and sister, were in a bed on the other side of the room. The air conditioner drowned out my early rising. 

I carefully lifted the covers and scampered into the bathroom to splash water on my face. I stared in the mirror and thought about yesterday at the pool. What was dad talking about to those men? Who are the Ambassadors? Why was he acting so weird? 

It was six in the morning and the sun had not risen yet. I wanted to find out more. Maybe the truck was a clue. 

I threw on some shorts and tee shirt and carefully opened the motel door. If dad wasn’t going to let me be an adventurer I would find my own adventures I thought to myself. 

The parking lot was littered with a half dozen cars. No sign of the Ambassador truck. I heard a loud banging noise and some voices yelling out. I followed the sounds to a walkway that veered under an overhang and out of the back of the motel.

The motel was located at the base of a hill which made the walkway steep. I followed the path and sounds. Large metal silos came into view in the distance. Maybe a dozen of them. A clanking sound made me pause. A man yelled out, “Give it some juice…”

A truck was parked at the bottom of the silos and two hoses protruded out like tentacles. They were attached to the towering structure and convulsion and shaking making loud noises. A guy wearing an orange vest tried to hold the hoses steady while another man pushed levers in the truck. 

The side of the truck said: Ambassador Corporation. 

These workers were still about a hundred yards away and couldn’t see me. I pranced from tree to tree, behind boulders, fences, and tried to stay out of their way. I didn’t have a track record of keeping quiet and blew my cover most of the time. But I was determined to not mess this up. I needed to find something about these Ambassadors and prove to dad my skills as an adventurer.

Another man yelled, “Hold it.” The loud sounds coming from the truck ceased. A second man came to the attention of the hoses and unclamped them from the side of the vehicle. He took out a wrench and tightened the cylinder and gave a thumbs up.

The truck rumbled on and water flowed from the hoses. Each hose danced on the ground like snakes fighting one another. I watched with fascination as the men worked. 

A solid wooden fence surrounded the perimeter of the silos. The front of the fence had a chain link gate which was wide open for vehicles and people to go in and out. I got low, ninja low, and scurried along the fence line. A sign on the fence caught my eye. 

Ambassadors Corporation. A water company.

The sign matched the truck logo from the pool the day before.

A second truck pulled in behind the smaller one pumping water. A large man got out of the driver side and waved to one of the men at the other truck. He gave a thumbs up and attached a hose to his larger truck. 

The second truck had three large containers fixed on the bed. They looked like what my mom used to save leftover meatloaf. Only super sized. I could hear water pouring into the containers. Lots and lots of water. 

I slinked along the wooden fence and hid behind a small building. It appeared to be a security guard shack for allowing cars in and out of the yard. I glanced inside the small building and the light was turned off. It seemed safe to keep on making my way into the yard to see what else was going on. It was still dark and not many people mulled around, only the truckers. 

Behind the silos were twelve contraptions with Ambassador logos plastered on the side. These machines had metal arms which protruded up and down into the ground. It appeared to be pumping water from the earth and into another container.

Why were these guys pumping water out of the ground? Where were they taking it? We were in the desert and water seemed to be scarce. But that’s all I could think of. Nothing out of the ordinary seemed weird with these Ambassador guys. I still wanted to know why dad was shouting at these men. Why would dad be mixed up with this corporation?

The sun began to rise in the horizon. I scurried past the security shack, slid against the wooden fence, and made my way back to the motel. It had been less than an hour, and I’d hoped nobody noticed I was gone. 

I cracked the door open of the motel and slid inside. The room was dark and most of the family was snoring and the hum of the AC still buzzed along. Everything was normal except dad. Oh crud. Where did he go? He knows I left and probably went looking for me. I peeked in the bathroom and it was dark. I danced across the quiet room and opened the curtains. Maybe patio? Nope. 

I cracked open the door and glanced into the hallway and parking lot. The van was still parked in the spot from the day before. Where did he go?

Panic set it. Maybe he was kidnapped? Did he tell mom about the work vacation? She needed to know. 

I rushed into the room and shook mom awake. She shot up screaming. “What is going on?”

“Mom… dad was kidnapped.”

She wiped sleep from her eyes, “What, son?”

“Some bad men came and took him. He’s not here. I checked in the bathroom and the van is still here.”

“Ricky… you need to lay off the comic books. Your mind is full of imagination. Dad is fine. There’s probably a logical explanation.”

“Yeah… bad men stole him from his baed, tied him up, and are torturing him right now.”

I felt a smack in the side of my face. Rosie had chucked a pillow. “Really, Ricky? We’re on vacation and I am dealing with relationship problems. And you wake us up before seven. Dad is fine. Go to bed. Not cool, loser.”

I brushed off Rosie’s comment, “Dad has been kidnaped by the Ambassadors and all you can think about is your boyfriend? You’re the loser…”

Rosie rolled her eyes, “Whatever… who are the Ambassadors?”

“Yeah, I’d like to know,” mom said.

“I don’t know. But yesterday dad was talking to some guys in the parking lot. They had a truck with an Ambassadors logo on the side. I think they stole dad.”

Right then the door burst open and dad shot into the room. He held up donuts and a drink carrier of juice, milk, and coffee. “Who likes donuts?” he asked, with a grin, “What’s with the faces?” dad asked, staring at me.

“Ricky woke us up. Talking about the Ambassadors. Saying they kidnapped you.”

“Is that true son?”

I held my head in shame. 

“See, Ricky. A logical explanation. Dad is not kidnapped by some hooligans. He just went to get breakfast,” said mom.

I grabbed a glazed donut and plopped on the bed. I mumbled under my breath, Good work Ricky, another failed mission. 

Updates on National Novel Writing Month

November 6th update. I've written for five days, and have done 13,334/25,000 words. This will be book one of a series. The second book will be around 25,000 words as well. These manuscripts, first drafts, will be done by November 30. 

Thanks for following along!

Works in Progress: Children's Book (2) for National Novel Writing Month

So National Novel Writing Month is almost here. Tonight is Halloween, and the eve of one of my favorite highlights of the year, writing a novel in 30 days with a bunch of crazies.

This year, I’m making it a family affair. I’ve recruited some of the best storytellers I know. My sons Noah (ten) and Owen (six). They churn out stories and book ideas like crazy. And because I’ve never written a kid’s chapter book, they are helping me understand the inner workings of a solid book for little humans. A book kid’s will read when the iPad is vying for their attention.  

What makes a good kid’s book you ask? Action, Dad, lots of action. And fighting, and swords, and a kid lead character. Got it. 

So were writing a poor man’s Indiana Jones tale, actually, two of them. The first book in the series is called Secret of the Ambassadors. The titles might change. 

A story about a family named the Rayburn’s who are an adventuresome clan. They go on a family vacation in the desert and come to find a group called The Ambassadors stealing all the water in the area. They are selling the water to some bad people in another part of the country and the people will die if not stopped. Cool, right? My kid’s came up with the entire thing.

Ricky who is the twelve-year-old oldest son is the main character. I will tell the story from his perspective. He wants so bad to be like his dad and be an awesome adventurer, but his dad doesn’t think he’s ready. He kind of gets thrown into finding his way when things get dark in the book.

Second story is same family now on a fishing trip in the ocean. They stumble upon some rogue scientists who are killing the wildlife in the sea. More funny and adventure will ensue. Another great, idea, right? Like the last one, Ricky is not allowed to fight crime just yet. But, he always gets himself in some kind of trouble. 

We have basic characters, settings, back story, and scene ideas. But not much else. I prefer to discover the story as I go. That’s the fun of writing fiction. If you know the end already what fun is that?

Like Stephen King once said,

“It’s like making a cake and eating it to when you know the ending.”

I will post some of my pages online and give sporadic updates on the journey. I’m so excited to write this book with my little guys and can’t wait to see what ideas they continue to feed me. 

As I write, I will give them pages for their feedback. We can course correct as we go. 

Thanks for following along! Should be a blast!

Barry J. Hutchison on Writing Children and Adult Fiction | TPW Podcast Ep 026


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Barry J. Hutchison has written over eighty children's books for a traditional publisher. In the last couple years he's ventured into the world of adult Sci-Fi in the indie space. Barry loves the freedom of indie publishing and is finding his voice and audience for his new genre. In this episode Ryan and Barry explore the pros and cons of traditional publishing, the freedom of indie publishing, and the keys to transition from children to adult fiction. You can find Barry at: