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Tag: literacy (page 1 of 2)

Teaching Emotional Literacy Via Chapter Books

Throughout the history of children’s literature, children’s books have existed in large part to teach lessons. Not only do they teach children to be compliant, grateful, pious, and to work hard, children’s books socialise children. Today we might say they teach ’emotional literacy’.

emotional literacy is taught via the Ramona books

“Everybody else on the block rides two-wheelers. Only babies ride tricycles.” She made this remark because she knew Howie still rode his tricycle, and she was so angry about the ribbon she wanted to hurt his feelings.

Ramona the Pest, Beverly Cleary

Adult readers are left to work out motivations, ironies and desires for ourselves — we read between the lines. And this is true for young adult novels, too. But when children are learning to read they are also learning to recognise and name their feelings. Chapter books such as the Ramona series are good at doing that because they add that little extra bit of explanation.

This little bit of extra explanation can be found in children’s books for older readers, too:

“So you should have told me before, that’s what. You shouldn’t hide things like that from people, because they feel stupid when they find out, and that’s cruel.

Northern Lights, Philip Pullman (Lyra to her father)

When an adult is unable to identify their own feelings it’s called alexithymia.

Alexithymia is defined by:

  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.

Alexithymia is found more commonly in the autistic population, but not all autistic people have trouble understanding and identifying emotions. In fact, only about one in two autistic people have trouble with this.

Likewise, a surprisingly high 10 percent of non-autistic individuals are alexithymic.

Reading and understanding complex and difficult emotions are skills that need to be learned by all of us. Another reason not to skip the chapter books!

Boy Friendly, Girl Friendly

 

 

boy-friendly-search girl-friendly-search1

Related Links

10 Great Science Fiction Books For Girls from Flavorwire

Strong Female Characters In Fiction from Common Sense Media

100 YA Books For The Feminist Reader from Bitch Media

9 FEMALE CHARACTERS WE WISH WE’D BEEN MORE LIKE IN HIGH SCHOOL from The Mary Sue

Here’s an interesting article from author E.M. Kokie about how much harder it is in some ways to write a female protagonist than a male one: “I’ve discovered, to my frustration and anger, that it’s actually much more difficult to talk about [my female protagonist’s] body, and her body’s desires, in ways that feel natural to her character (and her love interest’s character) and that feel readily accessible to the landscape of YA readers….I was shocked to find a complete lack of language for the female anatomy in all but one of the books I checked, and none at all during an intimate scene.”

Unlikable Female Characters In YA Fiction from Stacked, because girls don’t need to always be liked.

The Greatest Girl Characters of Young Adult Literature from The Atlantic

Top Picks For Women’s Equality Day from Reading Today Online, a website which also has the lesson plans Females in the Spotlight: Strong Characters in Picture Books and Girls Read: Online Literature Circles.

How Do You Find Feminist Children’s Books? asks Bitch Media

Readers’ Choice: 10 More of the Most Powerful Women in Literature from Flavorwire

Teen Girl Sleuths to Read While You’re Waiting for Veronica Mars from Book Riot

Women Protagonists in YA: A List and Resources from Ashley F. Miller

Feminism 101 book recommendations for teens from Feminism 101

And for the younger readers, here are some chapter books about girls, though I haven’t read them so can’t promise they’re ‘girl friendly’, which it should be clear by now, is not the same thing! (Here are early chapter books featuring girls that come in a series.)

How To Write The Perfect YA Heroine is an ironic how-to guide which points out all the ways in which societal expectations and biases and sexisms play out in fiction as much as they do in real life.

Heroines Of Colour is a Pinterest board featuring book covers of heroines who are not white.

Books Well-known For Their Rounded Female Characterisation

  • The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis
  • Feeling Sorry For Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Along For The Ride by Sarah Dessen
  • Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales
  • The Kayla Chronicles by Sherri Winston
  • Spindle’s End by Robyn McKinley
  • Don’t Judge A Girl By Her Cover by Ally Carter
  • Year Of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (2003)
  • Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller (2006)
  • The Running Dream by Wendolin Van Draanen (2011)
  • True Blue by Deborah Ellis
  • The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy
  • Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (2006)
  • Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken
  • Nim’s Island  by Wendy Orr
  • Princess by M.M. Kaye
  • The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
  • The Penderwicks and its sequels by Jeanne Birdsall
  • Esperanza Rising  by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L’Engle)
  • Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Andersen
  • The Daring Nellie Bly by Bonnie Christensen
  • You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! by Shana Corey
  • Imogene’s Last Stand By Candace Fleming
  • Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
  • The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
  • The Evolution Of Calpernia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
  • His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
  • Clementine By Sara Pennypacker
  • Eleanor Roosevelt by Russell Freedman
  • A Ballet For Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
  • CLAUDETTE COLVIN: TWICE TOWARD JUSTICE by Phillip Hoose
  • ALMOST ASTRONAUTS: 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM by Tanya Lee Stone
  • Daughters Of Time edited by Mary Hoffman
  • Just Like Tomorrow (2004) by Faïza Guène, translated by Sarah Ardizzone
  • Lady: My Life as a Bitch (2001) by Melvin Burgess
  • A Gathering Light (2003) by Jennifer Donnelly
  • Ballet Shoes (1936) by Noel Streatfeild
  • Wise Child by Monica Furlong

 

Texts often describe how places, people, or objects look or sound or smell. Readers can enrich their experience and increase their understanding by forming mental pictures: by imagining what is being described as exactly as the words of the text allow them to. This process is what theorists of reader-response call “concretization”. […] Concretization is a skill often possessed by children. In fact, imagining as literally and completely as possible the world and the people a text describes is the only way that many children know of building consistency from the texts they read. This seems to be the reason that so many children and other inexperienced readers worry about the logic and coherence of the worlds that texts enable them to concretize–why they so often get angry when there are inconsistent details in descriptions of places and people or confusions in the sequence of events.

On the other hand, concretization is a skill that many adults have forgetten. Many readers have been taught to focus so much on using texts’ potential for engendering sights and smells and sounds. That’s a pity. Not only does it deprive such readers of a source of pleasure, but it also prevents them from understanding the subtle richness of the texts they read.

– The Pleasure of Children’s Literature by Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer

Holding On To Enid Blyton

childhood books you can't give away

I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, but this was before parallel importing of books in New Zealand, when books were still super-duper expensive. Few kids owned many and school libraries were quite small. I was lucky to grow up in a household full of books, though these comprised almost entirely of:

1. Little Golden Books

2. Read-It-Yourself books from Ladybird

3. My mother’s childhood books, and for some reason, a number which had belonged to her cousin. These were mostly Famous Five novels, along with a few from Blyton’s Malory Towers series and a few similarly bound ‘girls’ novels’ by Elsie J. Oxenham.

Here is a picture of Elsie J. Oxenham. It was taken in 1910.

Elsie J Oxenham portrait

The photo says it all.

 

 

I never was impressed by Oxenham’s books, which have dated in the most conspicuously terrible way you can imagine. I’ve since passed them on, and perhaps a collector found them at the second hand store. Enid Blyton’s books, however, are harder to get rid of, not because they haven’t dated. Enid Blyton’s books are terrible in ways that are well-known and well-documented by many other modern readers:

Enid Blyton’s Books Were A Product Of Their Time

 

When it comes to Blyton’s notorious characterisations of travellers and gypsies [Cullingford says they are] ‘so absurdly innocent that they are beside the point’, a worrying observations both in light of the fact that, around the same time as Blyton was writing, over 200,000 gypsies were either being killed or had recently been killed in the Nazi death camps, and in light of the fact that Blyton is still promoted in school and very widely read by children.

– Understanding Children’s Literature, edited by Peter Hunt

The reason I’m having trouble giving my Enid Blyton collection away is because the stories are still compelling, and because I have such fond memories of Enid Blyton stories as a child. Again, I’m not alone in this:

500 Million Readers Can’t Be Wrong from Children’s Books Articles

The Enduring Appeal Of Enid Blyton from The Guardian

Some of my Enid Blytons

Some of my Enid Blytons

If there’s any dilemma at all in the first world problem of owning too many books, it is this:

  1. Do I want my daughter to read Enid Blyton, over and over again, like I did?
  2. Did I love the stories of Enid Blyton mainly because I wasn’t exposed to much else?
  3. Is there enough time during childhood for the average reader to get through all of the old classics as well as all the best new ones?
  4. What does it mean to be a well-read child these days, when there is so much out there?
  5. Wouldn’t I prefer my daughter read modern classics over and over, for example the Harry Potter series, which is neither racist nor sexist (at least, if it is, we can’t see it yet)?
  6. Do I donate these Enid Blytons to the second-hand store, or do I keep them here, taking up space on a shelf?
  7. If I give them away, will I feel the hole they have left? After all, those are my childhood memories right there!
  8. If I keep them on the shelf and my daughter finds them, will I be slightly irritated that she’s not reading better stuff, which I have bought for her with good money?
  9. If my daughter reads them, is this an unexpectedly wonderful lesson in 20th Century inequalities, as it was for me?
  10. Is there a danger in sheltering young people from the sexism of earlier eras that they forget things can swing just as quickly back the other way?

What have you done with your childhood books? Do you encourage your children to read those over newer ones? Do you think children should read older books alongside modern publications for a rounded view of recent history?

The Size and Format of Picturebooks

How does the binding of a book affect reader expectations?

What about the size?

 

The actual individual appearance of of individual books is just as obvious an example of how prior expectations control our responses to stories; it influences our attitude to the stories the books contain before we even begin to read them. We expect more distinctive literature from hardcover books with textured, one-color cover and more conventionally popular material from books with luridly colored plastic coatings. we tend to thin differently about paper-covered books and ones with hard covers, and as a result we respond differently to the same story in different formats; what might seem forbidding and respectable in hardcover often seems disposable and unthreatening in soft. 

The size of a book also influences our response to it. We tend to expect rambunctious, energetic stories like the ones by Dr. Seuss from large books and more fragile, delicate stories like those by Beatrix Potter from smaller ones. In fact, larger books do allow larger effects, while smaller ones demand restraint from an illustrator, lest they appear overly fussy; but these differences are as much a matter of convention as of technical limitations. We tend to read smaller books expecting charm and delicacy — and to find it even if it is not there — and to read large books expecting energetic rambunctiousness– and to find it even if it is not there. 

– Words About Pictures by Perry Nodelman

We shouldn’t underestimate the effect of binding and size. One disadvantage of book apps and ebooks is that the reader is not provided with any textural information, and the size is fixed according to the dimensions of the device.

That said, a universal book app created for iOS (for instance) may well be interpreted very differently depending on whether it is read on an iPhone, an iPad mini, an iPad, a Mac screen or projected onto a smart board.

In Which Jerry Griswold Makes Some Great Points

Speaking of The War Between Print And Digital, which you’ll definitely have noticed if you’re in book app world, Griswold points out that the competition between the two types of media is a false dichotomy.

The book, too, is a handheld story gadget. It’s not a choice between but of.

Children’s Books In The Era Of The iPad

 

And he is right. There are many instances of ‘interactive print books’. Please, do read the entire article, if only to learn the very useful concept of ‘hypnagogic objects’.

 

Nick Hornby On Why All Fiction Should Be Young Adult Fiction

From the podcast available on iTunes U, from a talk delivered by Hornby at Newcastle University.

Nick Hornby refers to a list put out by an author who was asked which books all English children should have read before leaving high school. Hornby admits that he hasn’t read some of the books on this list, and wonders if he is missing anything. There isn’t time for everything. Hornby is a voracious reader, and hopes he has instilled a love of reading in his own children but wonders if ‘forced reading’ would only lead to a hatred of the classics.

Does literature teach us to be better people, and great literature to be the best? If this is the case the best read among us should be the most humane, but in fact some of the best read people of his acquaintance are as susceptible to petty jealousies, greed and other human vices as the next (less well-read) person.

Wendy Cope was one of two writers who refused to take part in the survey (it was asked of many well-known writers) and she said she’d draw no distinction between people who read and people who don’t read. (Hornby later admits that he was the other writer who refused to provide a list.) This is a very interesting position for a writer to take. Hornby likens knowing about literature to knowing about wine — useful, but hardly essential. Like wine, some books are better than others, though Hornby does not consider himself a relativist. That said, if you spent your time digesting cheap table wine it would do you just as much harm.

Reading for pleasure is the most important indicator of the future success of a child. Nearly half of prisoners in America’s prisons are illiterate. We need to get our children and a worringly large chunk of the rest of the population reading.

The best description of reading is in The Child That Books Built. Hornby quotes from that.

He then quotes from The Intellectuals and the Masses.

There is no reason why children should not read classic books that typically turn up on reading lists, but because they’re difficult they’re put into a box and labeled so.

Hornby spent two years teaching English at a very good comprehensive high school in a university town. He has only recently begun to realise how influential that two years has been on his writing career. What he wanted for his students was a novel that was complex but simple to read. He found himself drawn to Of Mice and Men. Later he had the ambition to write books like that, along with Roddy Doyle — simple, funny, unquestionably literary in that the intent isn’t simply to amuse and entertain. Doyle spent years as an English teacher, and his first profession must have profoundly affected his second.

Hornby has written several books for young adults, such as Slam. About A Boy was intended for older readers but the success of the film and the age of the protagonist has meant that it has become popular among a younger age group.

At a YA conference Hornby met David Almond, who Hornby had not heard of until that point. He then read Skellig when he got home, and realised it is quite brilliant. He has since read a lot of YA fiction, which has been like being a YA all over again. He was reading Vonnegut as a YA himself, but now in his middle age he was reading YA. These books made him think hard about what we want and need from literature.

In Skellig, a boy takes a book to a friend and the friend says, ‘Yeah, looks good. But what’s the red sticker for?’ The red sticker was for ‘competent readers’. Meena complained that what if other readers wanted to read it. In this passage Skellig touches on the idea of designating certain books for certain readers. By making a reference to Blake he is also asking us to look at his book in a way we may not have thought of doing. Skellig is about life, death, the value of education, and a lot of other things besides. He includes some of the more mundane truths (Chinese takeaways, for example) without losing the intensity of his vision.

Another work like Skellig is Feed, a sci fi novel clearly inspired by anxieties about the Internet. The only thing that distinguishes this work of art from other work of art is the age of its teenage protagonists. In Feed the characters have some kind of device implanted in their brains. They pick up anything thrown at them. As a consequence, everybody has a problem with language. They’re losing whatever eloquence they once had.

More recently Anderson has written two more remarkable novels in a series called Octavian Nothing, popular among US high school students. Set in Boston in the American Revolution, long and ambitious, this novel may well be the Joyce or the Henry James for the book’s young fans.

Francesca Lia Block’s Wheetzie Bat  is a bleak and funny and experimental YA book, almost the opposite of Skellig, as if Bob Dylan had turned his hand to chick-lit. Bleak, funny, experiemental. Everyday contemporary problems are turned into something surreal.

We have to accept that the world has changed in the last generation. There used to be nothing much to do — Hornby wanted to watch TV but there was nothing much on. Now there are plenty of over diversions competing for attention, and reading time is less. Traditionally, reading has been done in places where there’s no alternative BUT to read: sun-loungers, dentist’s waiting rooms, airports, but those days are now gone. From now on, there will always be an alternative. While we may lament this, there’s nothing we can do about it. We may have to accept that we are dealing with a new kind of human — someone who is unwilling to deal with complexity.

Children do still read: Harry Potter, Twilight (just as adults are reading Dan Brown in their millions). One thing all of these books have in common is that they are routinely rubbished by columnists in newspapers. There’s an idea that bad prose is automatically rewarded by huge sales. But Hornby is certain that these people are not interested in ‘bad writing’ per se and we should assume that these authors are doing something right rather than something wrong. These novels still have the potential to speak to us.

There’s a key to the success of the YA writers mentioned this evening: The authors know that they have to fight for teenagers’ attention. There’s a fine balance between writing what you want to write and writing what the readers really want to read, and all writers can learn from YA writers.

A couple of years ago Hornby had two separate conversations with friends who happened to be reading the same book, a big historical book. Both friends were busy people who confessed they were only reading a paragraph or two per night. Hornby pointed out that it would take two years to finish it at that rate. Many literate, university educated people seem to feel a grim sense of duty towards reading, feeling that it’s something we ought to do rather than what we want to do. Until we genuinely have fun reading it will be hard to persuade our children to read. Hornby urges the audience to put a book down that they are not enjoying, which is why he is reluctant to join a book club. He doesn’t want to feel that reading is a duty. As a writer, people are often apologising to him, ‘Sorry, but I haven’t read your book yet. Sorry, but I haven’t got time to read.’ Hornby feels that as long as you can read, there’s no need to be sorry.

Hornby explains The Alex Award:

The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year’s publishing. The Alex Awards were first given annually beginning in 1998 and became an official ALA award in 2002.

YALSA

A list of the winners on Goodreads. This is an invaluable resource for teachers, but it’s actually an invaluable resource for all of us. The Alex Award pretty much guarantees that a book won’t be boring. Dickens would have won an Alex Award if it had existed during his lifetime. Hornby doesn’t want writers to speak only to each other, or only to the few people who read the review pages. An American reviewer had recently described one of Hornby’s books as being ‘shamefully readable’, though you don’t hear restaurant reviewers describing food as ‘shamefully edible’. The idea that books should be work to read is entrenched in review culture.

Hornby reads because he loves to hang out with people who read, and he wouldn’t have anything to say without reading. He has a profound fear of boredom. Reading helps with his writing. Novels get closer to the way people think and feel than films and TV ever can. He wishes he’d said that he wants every school child to find ten books that they love before they leave school. Only then would they be set up as lifelong readers.

 

Related:

Is it possible to elicit a love of reading in children?

Required reading is hurting America

A LibraryThing list of books for adults in which the protagonist happens to be a teenager

 

 

 

 

 

Text Highlighting In Storybook Apps

…the vast majority of picturebooks are created for children. If we wish to be clearer about the nature of the picturebook should we attend to what children make of them or will our own close reading of individual texts be sufficient? And how relevant is it to our attempts to understand picturebooks that they are often used for teaching children to read?

– from the introduction to Reading Contemporary Picturebooks: Picturing Text by David Lewis

As children we relate to our picture books in a holistic fashion, merging sensations of the eye and the ear (for first we are read to), which marries the image and the sound of the words, and later, as we learn to read, the look of the words.

How Picturebooks Work, by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott

It’s not surprising that research on a new medium happens only after the new medium comes into existence and gains a foothold in culture. Since interactive storybook apps are so new, there is still relatively little research that has been done, and when making development decisions, developers are instead reliant upon our own commonsense, and inevitably, our own experience of literature and reading.

One of the assumptions to have arisen about the nature of ‘good’ storybook apps is that they include word or phrase highlighting synchronous with narration. The assumption: that word highlighting is beneficial for emergent readers.

At this point, the beneficial nature of text highlighting is an assumption. It may be of benefit. It may not be. And it is also possible that word highlighting actually does more harm than good to an emergent reader.

Why this assumption in the first place? I think word highlighting is often considered the digital equivalent to pointing at words with a finger, and many are under the impression (rightly or wrongly) that when a caring adult co-reader points to words as they read, that the child will pick up reading — as part of a much wider program to teach reading skills, of course.

So before focusing on the topic of word highlighting, I would first like to look a little harder at the finger-pointing assumption.

From an article in the Telegraph titled ‘Pointing to words helps children read in later years‘:

Researchers claim this is the first time a study has shown a link between referencing during reading and literary achievement in later life.

So, if there have been many good studies on the effect of pointing to words on emergent readers, they haven’t been widely published.

Let’s go with that and trust our parental instincts: that occasionally pointing to words in books, and drawing children’s attention to various technical aspects of reading does improve literacy. I’m not going to argue with that because I intuit this is the case.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, because there seem to be many app developers who intuit that pointing to words by a trained or careful adult can be emulated electronically in a storybook app.

This, I’m not so confident about. Pointing to words may be really quite different from animating individual words in digital stories:

  1. When pointing, the finger does not obscure the actual word. Instead, effective pointers would  surely place their fingers BELOW the word in question, not over it.
  2. Also when pointing, the fingers are not making those jerky movements reminiscent of colours flashing on a screen. The hand glides across the page unobtrusively. Emergent readers may well be less distracted by a hand than by digital animation of words.
  3. Fluent readers do not read by looking at one word at a time. We take in three words at once. While it’s clear that early readers need to learn words one by one, when it comes to training the eyes to move across the page, is it really that helpful to highlight words individually, especially when the narrator is reading fluently themselves? I wonder about what we are modelling when app developers choose to individually highlight words.
  4. It’s possible that some ways of highlighting words are better than others. We need more research into this. It’s not enough to simply assume that ‘apps with word highlighting are good’ while ‘apps without word highlighting are lacking’.
Here are some various ways of word highlighting that you’ll see in some popular storybook apps right now.

1. JUMPING WORDS

Sir Charly Stinkysocks and the really BIG Adventure

This is a storybook app produced by a large publishing house. The words ‘jump’ off the page as they are read. But when a word is jumping, it’s moving, and therefore not able to be read. All the emergent reader can see is where in the paragraph the narrator is up to; they can’t see the word itself. Not unless their own reading is actually out of sync with the highlighting.

Here is another app which makes use of the same technique:

Logan and the upside-down sea

*

2. FLOWING TEXT HIGHLIGHTING

Perhaps to avoid the choppiness which results from highlighting words individually, this app developer decided to make the word highlighting last slightly longer than the narration itself. The colour that appears around the words fades out slowly, so you end up with an ‘approximate’ highlighting of words. It certainly works to avoid that choppy feeling that happens when words jump.

But if the highlighting isn’t 100% accurate, leaving the reader perhaps one word behind the ballgame, might this be worse than no highlighting at all? We don’t know this yet.

3. HIGHLIGHTING OF PHRASES

Cozmo’s Day Off

I prefer this method of word highlighting, where phrases are highlighted rather than individual words. This emulates the way we read as fluent readers – not just by taking in a single word at a time, but by encouraging us to take in several. This may aid reading fluency, and fluency aids comprehension.

I suspect this book has it right. If words are to be highlighted, this is how I’d like to see it done. I like that the words themselves don’t move. Instead, a blue outline appears around the words. This doesn’t prevent the reader from actually reading them.

Temporary Conclusion:

  • I suspect that the highlighting of individual words is useful in word games in which emergent literacy skills are the target.
  • I suspect story app developers should stay away from individual word highlighting, and consumers should be wary of expecting it by default.
  • Just because something is possible with the digital format doesn’t mean it’s an improvement on non-digital versions of a story.
  • For now, app developers who use word highlighting as a selling point are making money based on something which doesn’t have good research behind it.
  • The option to turn off word highlighting should be an option, just as it’s an option to turn off narration.

I’m prepared to change my mind on this. The issue of word highlighting in storybook apps desperately needs research. But we can’t assume that highlighting equals finger pointing. It may not.

50 Best iPad Apps for Reading Disabilities from Teachers With Apps

The Features Of Chapter Books

Kate De Goldi talks to Kim Hill on RNZ Saturday Morning With Kim Hill.

Notes also come from Writing Blueprints webinar. (Starts after 11 minutes)

Here’s a transcript of an interview with Cheryl Zach about the difference between chapter books, middle grade novels and YA novels, from the Institute of Children’s Literature


Chapter books are better able to be defined than other types of books because they are for quite a narrow developmental process so you can say certain things about what most children will be capable of when introduced to chapter books.

The reading progression: Picturebooks, more complex picturebooks, chapter books, novels.

Chapter books are ideal for building confidence in reading alone.

Walker Books have been fantastic in how they publish and pitch chapter books at the right age.

Chapter books have certain features:

  1. They’re not readers that you’re learning to read on — they’re a different thing again, because they have a carefully calibrated vocabulary. This is not what’s happening in chapter books. Chapter books have a wider vocabulary. Different authors explore the width of that vocabulary in different ways.
  2. They have a sustained narrative. You can also get episodic stories, such as Milly Molly Mandy.
  3. They can be read to the child, or the child may read chapter books themselves. Both.
  4. There is a certain simplicity about them, and a certain ambit (scope) in the storytelling. The readers are now entering the wider world, so characters in chapter books include people you meet at school and out-and-about. But it’s also a period in a child’s life where friendships are developing and readers are learning to co-operate with other people. Children in chapter books tend to have more agency than they might have in a picturebook (bearing in mind there is a huge range of picturebooks out there now), but in a chapter book the main character does not have complete agency because they are 6, 7, 8, 9 years old. So the progress of a story can be aided by the child’s agency but also with assistance of someone else, even though this assisting character is often another child.
  5. They’re often school stories/family life/holidays, and there will be a problem to be explored, maybe something to do with dealing with things in the world, or stopping the child from having something the child really desires etc. There is often an animal that is important in the child’s life.
  6. They often feature black and white or colour illustrations.
  7. Text is written in short paragraphs. Plots are clear, simple and fast-paced. Strong narrative drive. Lots of dialogue.
  8. The aim is to make the reader feel accomplished so they go on to read more books.
  9. Most readers are 6-9 but the entire range of chapter books can serve readers from 5 to 10.
  10. Early chapter books: also called transition books are for younger readers 5-8. Or perhaps the parent is reading them to a 4 year old. 2500 to 7000 words long. Chapters are 500 words or less. Colour illustrations fill up a lot of these books. There’s a lot of space for the reader’s imagination. Unlike in a picture book the illustrations aren’t really going to add information to the story that isn’t apparent in the text. (Low ironic distance between the text and picture.) The reason being, the reader is going to look to the illustration to help them decode the words. e.g. The Princess In Black. Illustrations and text support each other. The Kingdom of Wrenly is another excellent example of an early chapter book. Early chapter books are written at about the second grade reading level but some children in first grade can also read them.
  11. At the end of the early chapter book category the illustrations are a bit fewer and tend to be black and white. With Eerie Elementary there are 96 book pages, 6000 words. (When you write it yourself it won’t be 96 pp long — this is including the illustrations.) This series has a bit of a spooky feeling. It includes friendship dynamics.
  12. Older/later chapter books are for 7-10 year old readers, sometimes all the way up to Year 4. Texts are 7000 to 12000 words. Generally black and white illustrations, not necessarily on every page. “Spot illustrations” — mostly text with a little picture. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker is an older chapter book. Lots of depth in terms of character but not complication in terms of plot. Ivy + Bean is about 120 book pages, 8000 words. These girls have a wonderful dynamic on the page. They go on very minor but delightful adventures. They tend to have slightly larger than spot illustrations. The pictures might add a bit of extra information, telling a secret, but it’s not carrying the plot. Lots of dialogue, conveying lots of story in a really fast way. 12000 is the upper limit but quite long for a chapter book. The Time Warp Trio: Your Mother Was a Neanderthal by Jon Scieskzka is 80  book pages, 10,500 words. There’s a trio, a time warp. 8 year olds are interested in time warps and Pokemon and similar. Lots of text, one small illustration which adds story movement/humour. A child isn’t getting frustrated trying to picture something before moving along with the story. This book has excellent dialogue. There are three boys and everybody’s dialogue sounds different.
  13. Every publisher classifies chapter book slightly differently. There’s some crossover in ages. Countries do it differently. The story itself will determine what kind of chapter book it is. If mainly action and dialogue it’s probably an earlier chapter book. If it shows some of the protagonist’s internal thoughts and feelings or has a strong secondary character central to the plot it’s probably a later chapter book.
  14. They can have interesting, creative, super fun formats. Graphic novels, a mixture of graphic novel and text on a page (Captain Underpants).
  15. Certain subject matter crops up time and again in chapter books. For example, a character sees a ghost becomes the main plot of Owl Diaries: Eva Sees A Ghost and Ivy + Bean And The Ghost That Had To Go.
  16. Young readers fall in love with characters which explains why chapter books are published in series. They tend to tell their friends about their favourite books.
  17. Characters can be kids, animals, adults or anything else you can think of.
  18. Humour is key.
  19. There’s not much interiority in chapter books compared to YA and adult books.
  20. Chapters in chapter books tend to be titled. (Maybe this is partly why — or because — they’re called chapter books?) That appears in the table of contents.
  21. Either present tense or past tense is used in chapter books.

 

How does a really good writer stitch together something with a very prescribed word length?

1600 word stories – heavily illustrated, though not as much as a picturebook. (e.g. Walker Shorts, Scholastic Branches.) Many chapter books are part of the Accelerated Reader assessment program used by schools to track students’ reading progress, which helps teachers, who are increasingly required to provide data to prove they can teach these days. Various different companies provide Accelerated Reader programs to countries around the world.

It’s probably slightly easier to get a chapter book published because there are fewer being submitted, especially if it’s one of the earlier chapter books. Those earlier chapter books are perhaps not quite as fun to write, or maybe it’s just that an active knowledge of vocabulary usage is required, and this skill is not common. There are programs you can run your text through to give you the reading level of your book, like the function in MS Word, but these aren’t especially accurate. If you’re using lots of commas in a sentence you’ve probably got too much going on in that sentence.

Is there a risk of being too formulaic? Yes, but in the hands of a really good writer, a structure can be enormously liberating.

Anna Branford

Children’s author and maker of things (Melbourne based)

Published by Walker. Mostly English writers in the Walker series but also some Australian and NZ writers in this short series. 1500 words is almost too short. But Violet Mackerel is lovely, especially with the black and white drawings running all the way through. The pictures are an important part of the story, setting tone and mood. This book has a proper hard back and nice pages and feels like a proper, grown-up book. The story is perfectly paced, the relationship between Violet and her friend Rose is really nice.

De Goldi recommends Violet Mackerel for 6, 7, 8 year olds, girls probably. Of course there will be some boys that this appeals to but the stories are aimed at girls in every possible way. There’s a lot of gender division at this age.

Hilary McKay

British author

Almost 5000 words. Hilary McKay is a very good writer of middle grade and YA books.

Ursula Dubosarsky

Writer for children and young adults (Australian)

Boys would like this book. It’s got two guinea pigs. One of them is a policeman in Buenos Aires.

Sally Sutton

New Zealand children’s author

Ben_and_the_Icky..._cover.jpg

Annie Barrows

Writer for both children and adults (American)

Similar to Violet Mackerel, with black and white line drawings throughout but much more text.

As you may have noticed, Annie Barrows also makes stuff for adults (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, with Mary Ann Schaffer)

Amy Marie Stadelmann

Olive and Beatrix are twins, but they are very different from one another. Olive loves science, and Beatrix is a witch!

Best friends who are very different from each other make for popular chapter book dynamics, even though in real life it’s almost a rule that best friends in primary school have to pretend they’re they have the same interests. (Birds of a feather.)

Jan Mark

Was a British writer

Jan Mark was very good at writing stories of about 2500 words. This is a masterly book to unpack from a writerly point of view. Five chapters, a very simple story about Jane and her cat Furlong. It deals with bullying. This story is very suburban, with a strong sense of place. What’s remarkable about it is the psychology of the characters, the plot, the resolution, the setting, all that is caught in 2500 words. Mark knows what to leave out and what to embellish. There is a pleasant old-fashioned feel to this, even though this book was written in the 90s.

 

So why does a book published in the 90s feel slightly old-fashioned? It might partly be to do with the regional accent and therefore the word choice, but this book is also written in the past tense from third person point of view. These books are almost always written in the third person — and there is a good reason for this. Take a slightly different kind of book like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is written in first person. Why aren’t books of this length written in first person? It must have something to do with the fact that the child hasn’t developed a strong sense of ego. Instead, they’re planted in a world where they’re part of a general sort of organism/community.

Perhaps this is happening less now, with first person fiction creeping down into this length chapter book now, and it seems we’ve entered a phase where the child must be the agent all the time. Individuals assert themselves even in quite early children’s fiction.

Noah Z. Jones

Jones writes for television and seems to have gotten started with illustration, later moving into both writing and illustrating his own stories.

Princess Pink And The Land Of Fake-Believe: Moldylocks and the Three Beards was both written and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. The series is funny fractured fairy tales. The Princess Pink stories are part of Scholastic’s early chapter book line called Branches.

Plot of Moldylocks and the Three Beards
In the Land of Fake Believe, Princess meets a strange girl named Moldylocks. When Princess’s stomach grumbles, Moldylocks takes her to the home of the Three Beards. The girls sit in the Beards’ chairs, eat their chilli, and jump on their beds. The Three Beards are not happy when they get home–and they are very, very hungry! Will Moldylocks and Princess go into the chilli pot?

This book is about 80 book pages, 2,200 words. There’s a focus on repetition. Lots of illustration and fun and humour.

The main character’s main point is that she is despises pink, which I guess is meant to be ironic since her last name is Pink. However, Princess Pink’s hatred of anything associated with girls comes across to me as femme phobic, especially when you take a look at the thumbnail character sketch of Princess Pink which occurs at the beginning of every new book — in each story it is revealed that Princess Pink hates yet another girly thing.

Rebecca Elliott

Rebecca Elliott is the author and illustrator of Just Because, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Sometimes, and Zoo Girl, for which she was nominated for the 2012 Kate Greenaway Medal. She both writes and illustrates the Owl Diaries.

Owl Diaries is a chapter book series by Scholastic.  This is another series in the Branches imprint.

It is written in diary format from the point of view a young owl girl, Eva Wingdale. She has a best friend called Lucy. Sue Clawson is the enemy. In her diary, Eva records all of her likes and dislikes, relationships with family and friends, and her daily routine, as well as her experience trying to plan a spring festival for her “owlementary school.” (Treetop Owlementary.) She has strong opinions and is thoroughly likeable. Puns and illustrations abound. Designed to appeal to girls ages 5 to 8.

In book #4, a new owl named Hailey starts in Eva’s class at school. Eva is always happy to meet new people, and she’s excited to make a new friend! But the new owl befriends Lucy instead of her. So Eva gets jealous. Lucy is Eva’s best friend! Will Eva lose her best friend? Or can Eva and Lucy BOTH make a new friend?

(I think in cover copy, the answer to a rhetorical question is always ‘yes’.)

There are two plot threads in this one.

Plot One: Eva’s class has started a newspaper. Eva is a reporter. Other classmates have other jobs for the paper.

Plot Two: Eva’s class will be welcoming a new owl, Hailey. Eva really, really, really, really wants Hailey to be her friend. In her mind, the two are already close friends. Eva makes her a welcome necklace and a special drawing–a map. But when her plan to change seats so that Hailey can sit by her backfires–Hailey chooses to sit in Eva’s old seat, the one by Lucy, Eva’s best-best friend, Eva is left confused and frustrated. No matter how hard she tries, Hailey is not becoming her best friend. And Lucy and Hailey are becoming closer and closer and closer. Eva finds herself alone but all is resolved in the end.

The life lesson is “never overlook your old friends when trying to make new friends. Adult gatekeepers love it when chapter books contain life lessons, which is a problem Ivy + Bean sometimes has because those two are sneaky little shits at times and go completely unpunished.

Don’t use animal characters to get out of more interesting things young readers might be interested in. This series is about owls, but actually they are girls. Bad Kitty is another series using animals as protagonists. The only thing to remember is that no matter the ‘skin’ of your protagonist, you have to do the work of character development.

Jane O’Connor

Fancy Nancy is a 2005 children’s picture book written by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.

Lauren Tarshis

The I Survived Series is also from Scholastic. This non-fiction series tells stories of young people and their resilience and strength in the midst of unimaginable disasters such as the September 11 attacks, the destruction of Pompeii, Hurricane Katrina, and the bombing of Pearl Harbour. She has to stay true and real but also has to tell a story.

These are good examples of how to keep a reader engaged, by bringing them into the scene.

Mary Pope Osborne

Magic Tree House series has been around for a long time.

The earlier ones are early chapter books but they get more complex and the later books are for older chapter book readers. The Merlin missions are much later chapter books.

What makes a picturebook re-readable?

“We’re not trying to make stories that are going to be read, we’re trying to make stories that are going to be read a milliondy billiondy times.”

Mo Willems

Nick Cross has compiled a list of things which give a book re-readability. First on the list is brevity, and picture books certainly achieve that.

If I’m talking about picture books specifically, I’ll add a few to the list:

1. Great Use Of Language

Masterful rhythm, something that has good mouth-feel when you read it aloud.

2. Layers Of Meaning

Picture books which appeal to both adults and children will help persuade adults to re-read the books in the first place. One thing which gives a picture book different layers of meaning is with words which tell a slightly (or completely) different story from the pictures. Rosie’s Walk is a classic example of a picture book which does this. Martin Salisbury explains the ‘read-it-again factor, and compares picture books briefly to theatre, in an interview on NPR.

3. Personal Connection

If the story moves you emotionally or reminds you of a time in your own life you’re more likely to revisit.

4. A Circular Story Structure

A lot of picture books end with an image or suggestion that the same story is going to happen again, only with a slightly different slant. For example, the monster under the bed has been found, the child has made friends with it, but the final image shows a different monster inside the cupboard. This circular plot shape is not limited to children’s books. Funnily enough, you’ll also see it quite often in horror for adults. Take Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman’s 1989 horror film Dead Calm, for instance. Just as the characters think the monster has been defeated and that they will live happily ever after, the audience sees him rise from ‘the dead’. For more on plot shapes see this post.

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