Friday, June 12, 2009

What's in a Title?

By Barbara Milbourn

As editors, Yvonne and I occasionally prickle when a new writer refers to a book entitled this or that. Yvonne likes to ask exactly what the book is entitled to. In case you’re baffled, the correct word we’re looking for is titled—what is the book’s title?

But what’s in a title?

Especially when writing for the children/juvenile market, it’s attracting their attention, appealing to their interests, and creating anticipation—instantly, obviously, and plentifully.

And what succeeds in doing this best with most kids?

A timeless fascination with bugs and buried treasure, secrets and wishes, far-off lands, villains and heroes/sheroes the readers’ own age, cupcakes, peanut butter, and farts. Yes, farts. Farts are funny. They’re especially funny when you’re a kid and hilarious when you’re a boy.

I wouldn’t be writing this had I not just finished reading Fiona Ingram’s The Secret of the Sacred Scarab. Fiona is a first-time novelist who I will interview on podcast May 21st. Her book lived up to its title and was a well-written tale of adventure in a far-away land. Fiona wrote it and promoted it so well that it has been selected as a Finalist in the Children’s/Juvenile Fiction category for the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Congratulations Fiona and take heart new writers!

Out of curiosity, I read the titles of the other finalists in the writing competition and found plenty of far-off lands, wishes, whispers, cupcakes, and peanut butter. But it was the winning title that stopped me in my tracks—Sweet Farts.

The Ms. Prude in me was miffed, cried foul, but admitted Sweet Farts grabbed my attention and piqued my curiosity. What was being written out there for our kids? I went to Amazon and read several favorable reviews, and then imagined grandma and little Joey going to Borders for his birthday. “Wow, grandma, this one looks cool,” Joey cries. Straight-laced grandma snatches Sweet Farts from his hands, bristling and determined to prove it is drivel not worthy of her precious grandchild’s attention. Instead she finds a lot of sweet characters and a young boy her grandson’s age farting up a storm at school. He has a problem, there’s sensitivity and insensitivity, there’s humor, and there’s a lesson. Grandma’s won over and so will be, undoubtedly, a throng of young readers whose attention was grabbed by the title.

Don’t underestimate the importance of titling (not to be confused with entitling).
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