Children’s Writing Weblog

How to Pick a Great Title for Your Children’s Book

Posted on: October 31, 2009

I’m not very good with titles. Luckily, I publish an information newsletter, and my subscribers already know that each issue will focus on how to write children’s books. So an article title simply needs to quickly tell the reader whether the piece can be put to use right now, or filed away for later. Book titles, on the other hand, must entice a potential customer to pick up the book, open it, read a few lines, and then purchase it. When your customers are children with big demands and short attention spans, your title often serves as your main sales tool.

Picture book titles, like the stories themselves, must be active, concrete, and sound interesting when read out loud. A little surprise doesn’t hurt: Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Williams, and When the Chickens Went on Strike: A Rosh Hashanah Tale by Erica Silverman all promise stories of animals acting in very un-animallike ways. Titles can give a clue to the plot and tone of the book but should draw the reader in without giving away the ending (Hannah Mae O’Hannigan’s Wild West Show by Lisa Campbell Ernst; Sumi’s First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak). And don’t be afraid to go for a grabber like Walter, the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle. You may not like the story, but I dare you to walk by the book in a store without wanting to read a few pages.

Chapter books and middle grade novels must appeal to kids more than their parents, so don’t use the character’s name as the title unless it’s very unusual (Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe; Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli) . Titles that are funny (The Stinky Sneakers Contest by Julie Anne Peters), irreverent (Your Mother was a Neanderthal by Jon Scieszka), or relevant to readers’ lives (Gossip Times Three by Amy Goldman Koss) will give the author immediate credibility. This audience wants to read books about kids just like them, only more so (bigger problems, better clothes, more exciting social lives). Titles that telegraph adolescent angst (Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge; Rosy Coles’ Worst Ever, Best Yet Tour of New York City by Sheila Greenwald) forge a connection with readers.

Titles of young adult books are typically spare, sophisticated, and dramatic. The title may represent an idea from the book rather than the plot, as in Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk. Coupled with the cover illustration, the title is intended to intrigue the reader by presenting the overall tone of the story. Francine Prose’s After, illustrated by the word spray-painted on a bleak, gray brick school wall; Walter Dean Myers’ The Beast, with the title printed in large orange and yellow letters running bottom to top that almost swallow the black background; and Caroline B. Cooney’s Burning Up title imposed over an illustration of marshmallows being roasted on a beach bonfire, the flames a little too red, the marshmallows a little too burnt, all tell young adults that these are not their younger siblings’ books.

Interested in learning how to write a book and send it to children’s book publishers? Come on over to The CBI Clubhouse for audios, videos, insider writing tips and much, much more!

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