School Readers

Hundreds of them are published each year. You will find them in school classrooms and school libraries, and occasionally on the shelves of public libraries, but you won’t find them in your standard bookstore. They are read by more kids, and have a longer lifespan than the average children’s book bought in your local bookshop. But they are generally ignored by, and often looked down on, by the literary community. I think it’s time to stand up for the humble school reader.

School readers are part of the educational publishing market. The education market is different from the standard trade market, which sees books distributed to stores. The education market, sells directly to schools and educational libraries. These books are levelled, so that students can work their way up through the various stages, slowly increasing their comprehension, their vocabulary and their reading skills. These books are written by a wide variety of writers, myself included. Some writers do it for the money. Some writers use it as a stepping-stone in their writing careers. Some do it because they enjoy it. For others, it’s a combination of things. Those of us who do write for this market, need to be able to write to a publisher’s brief — a set of instructions outlining what the book needs to achieve. This is not just limited to the reading level. It can also include educational outcomes, genre, major plot points, sometimes even a basic outline. Many writers find this too constraining of their creativity; others find that even within boundaries, creativity can thrive.

Often, these school readers are the first real introduction to reading that kids will get. And it is on the basis of these readers that many kids will decide whether or not they like reading. That’s quite a responsibility for the authors.

As a kid in early primary school (way back in the 70s), I was a reluctant reader. A major part of the problem was that I disliked the material I was being given to read at school. I found the school readers boring and a chore to get through. It was not until mid-primary that I finally hit a book that I loved… a book that convinced me that reading could be fun. That book, Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, was not a school reader.

I can’t help but wish that I had discovered reading, earlier. I can’t help but wish that the readers we had been given in school had been more interesting. This is part of what motivates me to now write school readers. (Okay… there’s also the money. It’s nice to have a regular income as a writer.) I try to write books that do more than just fulfil the educational requirements of the brief. I try to write books that kids will, hopefully, find interesting.

And I’m not the only one. There are a lot of VERY talented authors who are writing for the education market these days. I challenged two of these writers to explain, in 50 words or less, why they write for the education market.

First up, we have Sue Walker. She is author of almost 20 books, many of which are for the education market. Her non-ed books include Arnie Avery, Tilly’s Treasure and Best Friends (a CBC Notable Book). To find out more about Sue, check out her website.

“Generally, Educational Publishers produce more titles annually than Trade Publishers, so there’s greater opportunity for authors.  I’ve written early chapter books for both markets, and it’s taught me to write economically.  I think the experience has had a positive impact on all my writing.”

Next up with have Jill McDougall. She is author of over 100 books, most of which are for the education market. Her non-ed books include Jinxed! and Anna the Goanna. To find out more about Jill, check out her website.

“Why write for the education market? Money. There I’ve said it. Professional writers crave a steady income and this market is a hungry beast. Simply put, if you can deliver the goods, the commissions will keep coming. What’s more, the challenge of delivering lively text under pressure is almost as much fun as 2-minute Scrabble. Almost.”

My thanks to Sue and Jill for joining me on Literary Clutter.

Anyone out there want to share a school reader experience with us? Leave a comment!

And tune in next time for Sandy Fussell and her Jaguar Warrior.

Catch ya later,  George

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