I use Google images to prepare mock illustrations to go with the draft text, because you can’t create custom illustrations properly until you know the text is right.
Then the book is ready to go out and be read with a LOT of children. Not just a couple of friends’ kids from down the road who when asked ‘Did you like the story?’ will most probably declare ‘YES!’ (in that inimitable and endearing way that young children do when they haven’t understood anything at all but want to make you happy ). Instead, I visit school classes, and libraries, and the children of friends of friends. I also badger everyone in my street who has small children (although they’re generally quite amenable to the few minutes of respite my demo books and I provide!)
There is no harsher set of critics than children aged 4-5 .
“I hate it!” “That’s rubbish!” “I don’t understand.” “It would be better if she was a polar bear and not a penguin.” “It’s sooooo boring.”
And those are just the reprintable, spoken comments. The screwed up faces trying to decipher a sentence whose meaning I thought was completely clear are probably the most useful. Those show me that I’ve got it stupendously wrong, so I know an instant re-write is required.
Sometimes I get it spot on . And others I’m so far off the mark that I cry with laughter (which happens a lot and is the best part of my job!) The only benefit of experience is that I know when I’ve made a mistake really fast and can now rectify things even faster. Insert a noun to make the meaning explicit, add an adjective, make the end of the sentence the start, use a synonym, pick a different rhyming word. I have a whole shedful of linguistic tools that I’ve built up over the years.
Once I’ve determined the text is clearly comprehensible to a whole variety of children with different learning abilities, it’s time to move on to the illustrations…