Science writing for kids

Science writing for kids is a diverse field, teeming with opportunities for freelancers. That was the theme of "Science Writing for Kids: Skills and Markets," one of the workshops held during ScienceWriters 2008 in October in Palo Alto. A panel of editors of science publications aimed at young people offered advice on pitching to their publications, as well as general advise on writing for this audience.

 

Science writing for kids is a diverse field, teeming with opportunities for freelancers. That was the theme of "Science Writing for Kids: Skills and Markets," one of the workshops held during ScienceWriters 2008 in October in Palo Alto. A panel of editors of science publications aimed at young people offered advice on pitching to their publications, as well as general advise on writing for this audience.

Patricia Janes is executive editor for two classroom magazines published by Scholastic (and subscribed to by teachers). Science World is written at a 7th/8th grade level for kids in grades 6 through 10. There are six news stories and four features in each issue. Pitches are welcome, but most stories are generated in-house and assigned to staff writers and freelancers. Janes would, however, love pitches for the 350-word "Gross Out" column, which explains the science behind a disgusting picture (which must be located first), and for a column called "I Want THAT Job!," which explains a fun science career. Great art is important

SuperScience is written at a 4th/5th grade reading level for grades 3 through 6. Each issue has four news stories, two feature articles, and a "SuperScience Mystery" — an eight-character play that is designed to be read aloud. Janes would love to hear from writers interested in writing these plays.

Both magazines pay $1/word. Writers start with news items to learn the magazine's voice, before moving up to features. Interested in writing for Science World? E-mail Patricia Janes at pjanes@scholastic.com. For SuperScience inquiries, contact Elizabeth Carney at ecarney@scholastic.com.

Catherine Hughes, science editor for National Geographic KIDS, says the magazine targets 6-14 year olds and is written at about a 10-year-old reading level. The magazine, which Hughes says is "entertainment-driven," comes out 10 times a year and has a circulation of 1.5 million. Feature stories must have a tight focus, include pop-up facts, sidebars, charts and lots of great visuals. Anecdotes about animals are popular.

Hughes welcomes pitches, though most of the magazine's stories are assigned, so don't spend too much time on your queries. If she sees a flair in your letter, she might just assign you something. Writers get 2-3 weeks to finish an assignment. Payment is $1/word, upon acceptance. Contact her at chughes@ngs.org.

Andy Boyles is science editor at Highlights for Children magazine and an acquiring editor at Boyds Mills Press (trade books for young readers). Highlights depends almost entirely on unsolicited manuscripts, which is something Boyles is trying to change. He'd like to make more assignments.

Stories for Highlights should illustrate that science is an ongoing, self-correcting process and should help kids understand and connect with the world around them. And the magazine likes to show kids as participants in science. "We are always looking for content that a kid can read about and then go outside and see," Boyles says. A good story line is important. Payment varies.

While the magazine is edited to maintain a certain voice, books allow the writer's voice to shine through. Writers get a small advance and royalties from sales. You can reach Andy at ahboyles@highlights-corp.com.

Freelancer Emily Sohn offered specific writing tips, based on her seven years of experience with kids writing, most recently for Science News for Kids:

  • Keep words short, sentences short, and paragraphs short.
  • Appeal to the senses, especially in your lede. Find something about your topic that kids can picture, smell, taste, hear, or touch.
  • Don't try to do too much. Stick to just one or two main ideas.
  • Some guiding principles: Science is new. Science is everywhere. Science is fun. Science is adventure.
  • You can make yourself a character in your story. Kids like having someone to identify with.
  • Don't overuse exclamation points!

Find Emily at http://tidepoolsinc.com. To learn more about pitching Science News for Kids, e-mail Emily at emily@tidepoolsinc.com or Janet Raloff at jar@sciencenews.org.

Emily Sohn is a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist who writes for kids and grown-ups. Her stories have appeared in Backpacker, Eating Well, Health, the Los Angeles Times, Science News, Science News for Kids, U.S. News & World Report, and more. She has also written a handful of books and graphic novels for young people.

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