Twee, Twaddle, and Writing for Children


It’s been suggested to me many, many times that I write a children’s book to go along with the little illustrations I like to do. Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea. I’d really like to bring life and utility to my tiny cute characters. Sometimes, I even have ideas. It’s just that… I’m afraid I’ll wind up being too twee. 

Twee: infantile pronunciation of sweet. Baby-talk is twee. Too precious for words is definitely twee. 

There’s nothing really wrong with being twee, other than it bringing spontaneous tears to my eyes when I catch myself doing it. It’s simply that over-the-top cutesy embarrasses me. Twaddle is far worse. I first came across it while reading books and preparing myself to homeschool (which wound up taking far longer to actuate than I’d ever dreamed, but that’s another story). Charlotte Mason used the useful word in connection with dumbed-down reading material written for children. 

“They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.” –Charlotte Mason

As a mother of four, I noted from a very early age how each of them owned their unique, distinct personality. From birth, they were unalike, and it delighted me that they explored the world around them in their own unique ways. They still do, as they enter adulthood. The difference is that my guiding hand is far more distant, and far less likely to involve a lap and a cuddle when disappointments inevitably arise. 

As an author, I tend to look back over the span of years between me and their toddlerhood selves with a sort of peculiar helplessness. Am I remembering them clearly, or am I sentimentalizing through the softening mists of time? Can I write to the ‘real’ child that was, and will be? 

When I write my ‘adult’ stories, I can safely say “I enjoy this. Ergo, some other grownup may as well.” Therein lies the rub. A children’s book I enjoy might nor be the one a child would. I won’t talk down to the teens – I opted not to water down Vulcan’s Kittens although I was initially advised to. However, at the reading level for a picture book? Can I manage that? 

I can draw little characters. I can imagine little bits of scenes for them. I’m frozen at the idea of a lot suitable for the very young. 

“Second-rate story books, with stale phrases, stale situations, shreds of other people’s thoughts, stalest of stale sentiments.” — Charlotte Mason




8 responses to “Twee, Twaddle, and Writing for Children”

  1. Kathleen Avatar

    I don’t think it is at all necessary to water down even picture book writing for children. If they come across a word they don’t understand, they can either choose to ask someone or look it up themselves, or they can choose to skip over it, guessing at the meaning from context. I’ve done both, though your grandma strongly encouraged the use of the dictionary, and you might put a little note in the front encouraging your readers to do the same. Only all they will have to do is type the word into a search engine! I had to get a huge book down from the bookcase, and flip pages until I found what I was looking for!

    I also don’t like to see subject matter watered down too much for children. There are some things they don’t need to be exposed to too young, of course (something our society seems to have forgotten). But they can certainly be given concepts and ideas to make them think, and to encourage them to think.

    1. I’m not wanting to water it down. That’s part of the problem. I’m trying to figure out how to plot at a suitable level without being twee.

  2. Kathleen Avatar

    Don’t worry about level. Just go ahead and plot it out as if talking to another adult.

  3. riteturn Avatar

    If you accidentally speak truth to their children they will come for you with torches and pitch forks. You better be good at pleasant lies or hide your identity carefully.

    1. Have you seen my art? I do cute, not controversial.

    2. Kathleen Avatar

      Also, there are many parents still who would love to have good, non-politically-correct stories for their children.

  4. Cedar, I’ve told you to just put out an art book.

  5. John in Philly Avatar
    John in Philly

    The bunny is rolled ever so slightly to starboard.
    I’m thinking that is to make a (cough) gas release easier.
    And that’s how my mind works.

    Stories for the very young used to include what we in the modern day would say was not safe for children.
    (Hmm, the story arc requires that somebody get eaten by the wolf, so I’m going to write off Grandma.)

    I’ve usually made out OK by talking to children just as Kathleen advises.