Children's author and writing teacher Kathi Appelt was asked by The Writer magazine what she thinks is the biggest mistake newer writers make when writing children's books:
"The major mistake is 'saving the hero'. In real life, our job as adults is to provide assistance and counsel to children. But in fiction, young heroes (be they children or child substitutes, such as kittens, puppies, and so on) must tackle the obstacles and solve the story problem on their own."
I'd take that even one step farther: kids love reading about children who are able to solve problems that adults can't. In my animated series, "Norman Normal," Norman was the only normal kid in a family of superheroes, yet most of the time he was the one that ended up solving the problem. Kids yearn for the power to be independent and to tell adults what to do for a change.
However, that doesn't mean making your young protagonist perfect. Appelt warns, "We writers also have to let that main character struggle. If the obstacles to a goal aren't large enough, then readers won't care about the main character. What young readers want are imperfect heroes who get into a fix and then have to struggle to get themselves out--or not."
Good advice--in fact, it's advice I'm going to have to take myself in writing the second draft of the YA novel I'm working on. I realize that I've made things a little too easy for my protagonist, I'm going to have to be meaner!