Kids with parents who read, who buy or take books out of the library for their kids, and who then set time aside in their kids’ daily schedule for reading, tend to read the most.
tldr version: there are other things to do
tldr version: there are other things to do
How many Scholastic’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids (and 4 More) have you read? (Me 19, one star)
How many of The 50 Best Books for Kids have you read? (Me 16, two stars)
How many Newbery Medal Winners 1922-2013 have you read? (Me 3, no stars — I definitely need to read some more Newbery Medal winners.)
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t read a novel all the way through until after high school. Blasphemy, I know. I’m an author now. Books and words are my world. But back then I was too caught up in playing ball and running with the fellas. Guys who read books — especially for pleasure — were soft. Sensitive. And if there was one thing a guy couldn’t be in my machista, Mexican family, it was sensitive. My old man didn’t play that. Neither did my uncles or cousins or basketball teammates. And I did a good job fitting myself into the formula.
But there was something missing.
– Matt de la Peña writes about the shame of reading and creative writing for boys in a hyper-masculine subculture
I’d just like to point out that when it comes to boys and reading, it’s not the books that are the problem. There are already plenty of books out there that boys would like, and authors don’t need to start making all of their protagonists a certain type of boy in order for boys to read them. The problem is not the books; the problem is the culture.
…cannot be measured by a lexile rating.
According to The Atlantic, Teachers [in America] Are Supposed to Assign Harder Books, but They Aren’t Doing It Yet.
There’s something strange, though, about positioning a book somewhere on the continuum that starts with ‘easy’ and ends with ‘difficult’, because a book’s difficulty, aside from the most basic of measures such as frequency of lesser-used vocabulary, rests not upon the work itself, but in how it is taught.
This issue is close to my heart because I happen to think that even the ‘easiest’ picturebooks can be used as a jump-off point to explore a wide range of difficult themes and ideas. Non-fiction reading of adult difficulty can very naturally accompany the study of the easiest of fiction readers when reading is guided by a good classroom teacher.
I feel very uneasy when discussions on ‘difficulty’ begin and end with grade levels and lexile ratings.
See also: Federal Bureaucrats Declare ‘Hunger Games’ More Complex Than ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. I don’t see any problem with The Hunger Games being taught as a serious text, but this article does throw up the limitations of the lexile rating.
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 without help.
Walker Books have been fantastic in how they publish and pitch chapter books at the right age.
Chapter books have certain features:
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. (There are various opinions on the AR program.)
It’s probably slightly easier to get a chapter book published than other kinds of books 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.
Many chapter book authors make use of the Children’s Writer’s Word Book.
Is there a risk of being too formulaic? Yes, but in the hands of a really good writer, a fixed structure can be enormously liberating.
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.
Almost 5000 words. Hilary McKay is a very good writer of middle grade and YA books.
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.
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)
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
While children’s books need to be re-readable, books aimed at an adult audience do not:
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:
Masterful rhythm, something that has good mouth-feel when you read it aloud.
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.
If the story moves you emotionally or reminds you of a time in your own life you’re more likely to revisit.
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.
One Idea To Save Illustrated eBooks: Gamification from Digital Book World
As an aside, I’m interested in the wording of that title: do Illustrated eBooks really need saving? Already?
What do you think of the gamification of reading?
It works for me. For the last two years I’ve set a reading goal on Goodreads and managed to complete my 52 books in a year, all because I wouldn’t get to display their little badge on my profile. Not exactly a high stakes game, but it got me reading furiously in order to catch up. Right now I’m almost finished catching up from being 11 entire books behind a week ago. Is this a type of gamification?
What I don’t like in gamification of reading is when you aren’t allowed to progress in the story unless you’ve completed some sort of peripheral activity. If the entire point is to get readers through the story then nothing should stand in our way.