Writing for Children with AIO

Back to Jaw About Odyssey

by Nathan Hoobler

One of the most difficult things about writing for children is that it almost always has to be done by adults.  And it’s sometimes very difficult to write on a child’s level.  You have to be certain not to be condescending and also mustn’t oversimplify a story.

Often the problem with children’s books is that it’s assumed that if they have children in them, then will appeal to children no matter what the children are like.  I think we often believe that children’s level of sophistication is far below what it truly is.  It seems to be often assumed that children’s writing doesn’t need to be as high quality as “adult literature.”

C. S. Lewis and Roald Dahl were two authors who I think cleverly mastered the art of writing for children.  In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis constantly acknowledges how children feel toward adults and how very nasty adults seem to sometimes be.  Roald Dahl always embraced his children characters, giving them the most important and deductive roles.  Even the Harry Potter books are incredibly intelligently written, with the kids in the books being very smart, able to solve mysteries and understand adult situations.

Writing for children also involves having convincing child characters.  There’s nothing worse in a story than having a character make a preposterously bad decision that everyone reading, listening, or watching knows is a silly choice before the character does.  One of the great things about not only the Harry Potter books, but also AIO episodes like “A Lesson from Mike” or “Changing Rodney” is that the character make choices that we as audience members might very well make ourselves.  When Dylan accidentally activates the robot in “Star Quest” or Jimmy goes off to spend all his money in “The Prodigal, Jimmy,” it’s a little harder to swallow.  (I’ve sometimes called these “Kid makes crazy decision, Kid gets in trouble, Kid is forgiven” episodes.)  Not that I’m saying that kids (and most certainly adults) don’t make poor decisions…just that it’s far more rewarding to watch, listen to, or hear stories where the decisions are realistic.

When I look at the attributes of the character of Whit, I think my favorite part about him is how is never condescending to the kids.  I positively love the part in “By Any Other Name” when Phil Phillips tells Curt, “Why don’t you let us adults handle this?” and Whit stops him and tells him he wants Curt to hear this. 

Other stand-out moments in Odyssey is where the kids are presented as being on top of the situation.  Like where Mandy really understands the whole situation (better than most adults) in “Tornado!” or when Dwayne tells his teacher about a mistake on his test in “Faster than a Speeding Ticket.”  There’s no better way to endear a kid to the audience than to have them be right.